A study by UCL has found that more than one in five of students are teetotal. The NUS has suggested that increasing student debt, alongside the high cost of drinking itself, has in part been responsible for this trend. Certainly universities should seek to ensure that social life on campus is accessible for this demographic. Freshers weeks especially tend to revolve around alcohol and this can lead to the isolation of many non-drinkers. However, attempts to segregate drinkers from non-drinkers is not the correct approach.
Some universities such as Swansea and St. Andrews have started to offer their students places in alcohol-free accommodation. Moreover, universities are beginning to insist that their societies organise alcohol-free events for their members. Whilst such initiatives do to some extent address the concerns of non-drinkers, the need for them is based on a very troubling and commonly made equivalency between alcohol and binge-drinking. This is what needs to be challenged.
The UK market for alcoholic beverages currently is worth tens of millions of pounds. It is an incredibly diverse industry that tens of thousand of jobs rely on. Drinking involves risks, and certainly, those who choose to partake should be educated about such dangers. However there is often inadequate focus on the need for greater awareness about alcohol as a product. An assumption that the sole purpose of drinking is to become as inebriated as possible on a night out is completely unwarranted. Non-drinkers may be enthusiastic about alcohol-free accommodation for instance because it would prevent them from being woken by rowdy individuals. However what about occasional or even regular drinkers who equally don’t enjoy going on nights out? Should they be more affected than others by a binge-drinking culture just because they might enjoy the occasional beer?
Reports on alcohol consumption on UK campuses have tended to present a false binary between those who participate in the commonly held alcohol-centric view of student life and a complete rejection of it. Drinking has historically been an important aspect of UK culture and we all have a different relationship with it. There is a whole spectrum of people who are not represented by news articles on this subject.
If non-drinkers are segregated from occasional and moderate drinkers via separate halls of residence, it will only reaffirm such extreme assumptions of all drinkers. Furthermore events and even societies which are promoted on the basis of being alcohol-free would only likely attract teetotal students. Universities must ensure that they accommodate for everyone, regardless of their lifestyle choices. Yet many of the increasingly popular initiatives, previously mentioned in this article, only serve to prevent certain students from interacting with each other. A lack of awareness of others and their respective attitudes towards drinking will only further justify a deeply unhelpful parity between drinking and an unhealthy, excessive drinking culture which stereotypically dominates university life.
Instead, universities and student unions should seek to facilitate a healthier drinking culture on campuses, which is accessible for everyone. There must be a greater selection of non-alcoholic drinks in student union venues and events should be encouraged to take place where there is an incentive for both drinkers and teetotal students to attend. More importantly, students should become part of government campaigns surrounding healthy drinking. They should to a greater extent be invited to give talks at schools not just to portray a one-side perspective on the dangers of binge-drinking, which proves immediately alienating for many prospective students. There must be a greater focus on understanding alcohol as a product. This is fundamental for allowing individuals to determine a nuanced approach towards alcohol consumption.
Image Credit: pologi via pixabay.com