Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Overseen at Sayles

<r those who’ll be on campus next fall, try camping out at Sayles to watch the crowds fill up on that first Friday of the academic year. Although I never tried that out, it seems like an instructive exercise, one I’d want to gather more anecdotal evidence about. This past fall, both out of curiosity and on a whim, I found myself among the constellation of socials on that first Friday, the inaugural evening of social nightlife in full swing. No doubt the scene is familiar to many of us. The ranks of the gregarious inebriated were filing in and out of the houses and dorms. The eventual convergence on Sayles was a sight to see, the result of an evening that you can likely suspect involved varying degrees of a good drink or so.

Never having spent first Friday night of the year that way, you could say the whole affair was dizzying, if not disconcerting, for me. I remember the first Friday night my first year, where my life began gravitating towards the lounge of the sub-free floor I chose to live on, 4th Burton. That evening, I instead watched The Princess Bride with our RAs and other friends, then went downstairs to the dance extravaganza lessons in the Great Hall, and finally returned home for a good night’s sleep before midnight. This kind of a night back in 2013 is far removed from the night I experienced this past September.

Don’t let my dispatch comparing these Friday nights mislead you. I’ve enjoyed my share of socials over the years, and my own share of enjoying alcohol in them as well. Since the sub-free days of my first year, I’ve been socially “institutionalized,” as I’ve hosted socials and progressives of my own. Nowadays, in the throes of Comps, I’ve taken to quieter affairs of my choosing. Take this last Friday for example, when I caught up with old friends over Merlot—and sake will be waiting for us at the end of the term!

It’s staggering how accustomed we become to drinking in our lives over the years. Across many backgrounds prior to coming to Carleton, we’ve verily accepted drinking as a part of culture. The survey taken in 2015 under the Carleton Coalition on Alcohol and Marijuana (CCAM), available online, suggests such a trend. Prompted by the statement “Alcohol is a central part of the social life of the social life of students at Carleton,” 88% of seniors polled either agreed or strongly agreed with that statement. This stands in contrast to the first-years (58%), sophomores (76%), and juniors (83%) who were polled. At a 61% response rate to the survey, these results are rather significant, because they display the progression towards accepting a drinking culture that students experience in their time here.

The acceptance extends to even our campus traditions. The same CCAM survey found a majority of students polled strongly agreeing or agreeing with the centrality of alcohol to events such as Midwinter Ball, Cowling dances, Spring Concert, and (unsurprisingly) Rotblatt. Saying that any of these events are enjoyed with a drink is not simply a relative anecdotal statement anymore.

We’ve become so accustomed to alcohol that another change seems to occur over time that makes me apprehensive. In answer to a prompt that asked how they would respond to their close friends binge drinking once or twice a week, the percentage of responses that disapprove or strongly disapprove of the behavior decreased with class year: 43% for first-years, 34% for sophomores, 28% for juniors, and 21% for seniors. There is more context that needs furnishing to understand this, surely, and the surveys are certainly a snapshot of the student body at the time. But looking at these points alone gives me pause, as it would seem to suggest we have become inured (to some extent) to high-risk drinking over time.

I am usually resigned to mind my own business about how others drink, but I do cringe at times at the off-handed joke about getting wasted for the weekend or whenever as a stress-coping activity. We are facing upticks in mental unwellness across the country, and regardless of the frivolity that lots of alcohol could afford us, its overuse and abuse in light of mental health is no laughing matter. And perhaps it may be my moderate sensibilities kicking in, but I would rather treat the drink as ancillary to a get-together, a means to an end as opposed to the end itself.

We certainly have a public health issue with respect to drinking, and I will spare the rambling on adverse effects and other statistics, ad infinatum. But something must be said about the context of the forces that have shaped how accustomed we are to it. Consider, for example, how much media advertising has made it so normal, how common it seems from all the movies depicting collegiate bacchanalia dating back to Animal House and earlier. Consider, too, the continuity of our drinking traditions. The existence of Porch Wednesdays is our own iteration of previous Wednesday traditions, including a former tradition of kegs in Sayles in the ’90s. We’ve been told for a while to want to have a good time drinking, and we hear it without knowing it.

As with many things, I ultimately advocate neither prohibitions nor neutrality in the matter, but moderation as tempered by contentment. Like anything passed on to us from media or upperclassmen, take it with a grain of salt. Seek to be content once in a while without a drink; it won’t hurt to miss out sometimes. I am content enough with my adventures, and I like my choices. I can only hope you’ll get to enjoy yours, drinks or no drinks.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *