Do you need to drink alcohol to get the 'real' university experience?By Emily Bryant Over the years, many have arguably perceived drinking culture to be a pivotal aspect of the so-called ‘classic’ university experience and there is data to support this. For example, a survey conducted by the National Union of Students (NUS) in 2018 found that 79% of participants believed that drinking was an integral part of university culture itself. As we settle into the Autumn semester, however, there are students who are choosing not to drink alcohol for the entire month of October in aid of the fundraising movement ‘Go Sober for October’, started by Macmillan Cancer Support. The charity advocates for people to remain alcohol-free for 31 days in order to raise money for Macmillan’s support services and to pay their cancer nurses’ wages. Dan Gardner, a second year Medical student, is one of the Cardiff University students considering taking part in Sober October. When asked why he was considering giving up drinking alcohol for the month, Dan earnestly said, “It’s [raising] money for something important!” and it “seems a small sacrifice for a good cause.” Sober October aside, the NUS survey found that 21% of students did not drink at all at university. One such student is first year student Ellie Davies. She explained, “I don’t like being hungover, and the clubbing scene isn’t really my thing”. Ellie, who studies Chemistry, also went on to discuss the economic benefits of being teetotal at university, “Alcohol’s so expensive!” she laughed. “Not drinking is so much cheaper, which is ideal when you need to save money.” She then clarified, “I live away from home, so managing my money is a priority. If that means I don’t drink, then so be it!” That being said, there is a concern regarding the social aspect of drinking culture and how that affects university students. Many socialising events, such as those in Freshers’ Week, seem to be focussed around drinking or being within a primarily drinking environment. “That does worry me,” Dan admitted. “I enjoy going out drinking or clubbing with my friends, I’m not sure how my social life would be affected.” He quickly continued, “I think it could be worth it though!” Ellie, however, did not seem concerned with this when asked. “The events are for a specific kind of person, which I’m not”. She later added, “It inspired me to find a different crowd. I made friends who didn’t drink or who were okay with me not drinking. We still go out, we socialise, I just don’t drink”. When questioned about whether she felt pressured to drink, she confidently responded, “No, not even by my flatmates. Me not drinking isn’t a big deal”. As the NUS survey found that 41% of students did not feel bullied into drinking by their peers, this could reflect that the effect of peer pressure around drinking and, subsequently, drinking at university, has dulled over time. Therefore, while alcohol is still an aspect of student life, these could argue that the ‘classic’ university experience is no longer as ‘classic’ as we once thought. According to Macmillan Cancer Support, there are currently over 64,000 people taking part in Sober October this year and over £1.2 million has already been raised. The campaign has also inspired the emergence of more sober events. For example, The Big Retreat Wales, a ‘feel-good’ festival held in Pembrokeshire, has announced that in light of Sober October, it will be facilitating a ‘mindful bar’ at the 2020 festival to “encourage conscious connection and make people feel good, mentally as well as physically.” Regardless of Sober October, many still feel that drinking culture is a significant part of university life. It will be interesting to see how many students feel obliged to ‘raise a glass of water’ and go sober for the next month.
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