BC Ignites Sparks Raw Conversation About Binge Drinking

It’s been a tough week. You’ve spent hours locked up in O’Neill 4 like Rapunzel in her tower, toiling away over problem sets and response papers. You’ve overcommitted to three clubs, which you love, but their overlapping schedules add up. You’re emotionally and mentally exhausted and, come Friday afternoon, you find peace of mind in your friend’s excited, “Let’s have fun this weekend!” as you regroup after your second exam of the week.

Nighttime rolls around, and sooner or later you’re standing in a room with your friends as plastic bottles fill up red cups with your escape from the stress of a packed weekly agenda. You move with the hoards of other fun-seekers to Walsh or the Mods, your vision and memory blurring, but you revel in the chance to finally decompress, dance, and inevitably, drink.

It’s no secret that Boston College is not a dry campus and that a prevalent drinking culture impacts the lives and actions of all students at the University. The prevalence of such a culture, therefore, raises the question of how students’ experiences at BC are affected by alcohol.

In the first of several talks set to take place over the course of this academic year, UGBC sought to provide answers to these questions through discussion at “BC Ignites: Drinking Culture,” on September 28.

On that balmy Monday evening, the Associate Director of the Alcohol and Drug Education Program, Robyn Priest, was joined by three BC students who offered up facts, statistics and personal accounts regarding the role of alcohol at this university in hopes of sparking an open-minded dialogue.

Priest opened the event with a discussion on alcohol in general, providing a unique approach compared with other college administrators by asserting that alcohol is neither inherently good nor bad. Its effects lie on a spectrum ranging from favorable, like the broadening of social opportunities and the facilitation of more comfortable conversation, to detrimental, like posing the risk of violence and alcohol poisoning.

Gavel Media

Gavel Media

Specifically, Priest opened up a dialogue about binge drinking in regards to the “work hard, play hard” mantra that BC students pride themselves on. According to her talk, residential college campuses in the Northeast with strong Division 1 athletics promote binge drinking, and 90% of BC students agreed that the social atmosphere here promotes alcohol abuse.

The binge drinking culture at BC lends itself to an array of unfavorable outcomes: According to Priest, 76% of students admitted to experiencing a hangover, 50% report doing something they later regretted while drunk, 40% got into a fight with a friend, 33% missed a class and 25% performed poorly in a class or on a project.

Even if a student chooses to abstain from drinking (which many do), all students on a residential campus are affected in some way by alcohol, whether it be by taking care of a drunk friend, experiencing property damage or being interrupted by intoxicated people around them.

All of this evidence led Priest to ask how well BC students actually are able to balance the “work hard” and the “play hard.” In a community in which students work so hard to lead a healthy life during the week, to what extent do binge drinking and Late Night on the weekends undo that? How does drinking to excess affect academic work?

Priest suggested that BC students should continue to work hard, but consider playing smarter by setting limits with their drinking. Such consideration on the part of all students would diminish the negative effects of alcohol while preserving the fun.

She recognized that there is a problem with “work hard, play hard,” but also acknowledged that it is the responsibility of the students to change the paradigm. “'Work hard, play hard' culture at BC can only change if students decide they’ve had enough of that lifestyle,” Priest said.

Following Priest’s discussion, three students came forward to share their experiences with alcohol and interpret BC’s drinking culture from their own perspective.

The first story came from Katie, who considered drinking culture from the point of view of a child of a parent suffering from alcoholism. Though not an adversary of drinking, she made it clear that “alcohol is never the cornerstone of a substantial relationship.”

Photo courtesy of brownpau / Flickr

Photo courtesy of brownpau / Flickr

The second perspective came from Guy, who expressed the opinion that there’s no shame in embracing a "work hard, play hard" mentality because, “There are BC students who drink, there are BC students who do well academically and there are students who do both.”

He and his friends fit the “both” category, but when faced with a conduct hearing after throwing a party in his dorm, he was upset with the way the administration dealt with the situation. He accepted the consequences of his actions, but felt that administration judged him based on his social life without any consideration of his other traits, and viewed him as reckless, irresponsible and immature. He urged the BC community to stop denying that a drinking culture exists on campus.

The final account came from Alex, who was raised in a home where alcohol was never taboo. She and her family accept that underage drinking is illegal, but don’t see the problem with responsible drinking in a controlled environment.

Coming to college, she was surprised to see that, in many social situations, alcohol is viewed as the main event and a necessary ingredient for fun on weekends. She views drinking alcohol the same way she views drinking any other beverage—she will imbibe if she feels like it in the moment. The concept of drinking with the intention of getting drunk was foreign to her before college, and she stresses that although it can be fun to drink with friends, it isn’t necessary to have a good time.

After these presentations, the students in attendance broke into groups to discuss their own experiences with drinking culture. The issue of alcohol on campus raises larger questions about BC’s policy on student drinking.

According to Section 4.3.1 of the Code of Student Conduct in the 2015-2016 Student Guide, all students under 21 are, in accordance with state law, “prohibited from possessing, using, purchasing, transporting, selling, and/or distributing alcohol.” All students, even those of legal drinking age, are prohibited from “possessing or consuming an open container of alcohol in on- or off- campus public or common areas,” “engaging in drunkenness and disorderly conduct,” “possessing, furnishing, consuming or serving from a large quantity or common source of alcohol” meaning kegs or punch bowls, “hosting or participating in the rapid consumption of alcohol” including playing drinking games, or “enabling underage alcohol consumption.”

The 2015-2016 Conditions for Residency’s Alcohol Policy states that students over 21 can “only possess small amounts of alcohol for personal consumption,” and are responsible for any underage drinking that occurs in their presence. Additionally, underage students are prohibited from possessing empty containers of alcohol, even for decoration.

Despite the risks of disciplinary action, students continue to participate in alcohol-related activities as exemplified in the conversations that took place at “BC Ignites: Drinking Culture.”

Although not all students drink to the point of endangering themselves or others, situations can quickly escalate when many intoxicated individuals congregate in one place, such as Walsh or The Mods.

“People in Walsh tend to be a bit more daring because they know they can push the limits, and people dismiss it as, ‘Oh, that’s just how Walsh is,’” says Marta Seitz, MCAS ’18, a Walsh resident. “People seem to expect Walsh to be crazy, and as a result, students don’t hesitate to live up to that expectation.”

Seitz agrees that most of her peers drink socially and host parties, but on a more local disciplinary scale, she feels that the RAs have been fair.

“Though [the RAs] are expected to do their jobs, they don’t go out of their way to write people up,” Seitz said. “This year the RAs seem to enforce fairly if things get out of hand, but aren’t looking for trouble where there isn’t any.”