With COVID-19 restrictions lifted and a gradual return to normality, Freshers’ Week will be going ahead as planned. While some will be enjoying the social opportunities that the legendary week has to offer, others might have a less than satisfactory experience; especially when we consider the pressure being placed upon students to consume excessive amounts of alcohol during the week. Either way, there will be a mixture of responses, but nevertheless it is integral that we normalise the inability to make friends in the first couple of weeks, and the stress that resonates with joining a new community. It’s easy to forget as a second or third year how isolating the first term of first year can be.
All too often, university life has been circumscribed to the pervasive stereotype that excessive drinking is expected and celebrated. For some, drinking will feel like a great way to connect with people, but it’s concerning how it is introduced as a mandatory part of the ‘fun’ to every new cohort of Freshers. For non-drinkers or those who drink in moderation, it can be a challenging week full of intimidation and even isolation. To add to the problem, according to the latest figures provided by the National Union of Students, the fundamental cause behind drinking is peer pressure; ‘70% think that students drink alcohol to fit in with their peers’, with around 79% of students agreeing ‘that drinking and getting drunk is part of university culture.’ This narrative is routinely ignored, and therefore needs to be openly addressed.
In order to unveil the social pressures facilitating the drinking culture, it is vital to understand the role that universities play in tailoring to this lifestyle. A vast majority of activities that are promoted during Freshers involve socially packed events, such as clubs and parties; this environment not only ostracises those who feel insecure in crowded settings, but it also encourages dangerous drinking habits. For this reason, the negative health impacts that binge drinking can cause should be something that is readily taught, and support must be allocated to those who seek help. Although it would be wrong to assume that the universities are entirely responsible for the immoderate drinking, not enough progress has been made in this area; alcohol is still heavily promoted.
Having said this, in recent years universities have begun to diversify their interactive options for the new arrivals. Now there are alternatives such as outdoor cinemas, craft night, petting zoos and more (that’s at Royal Holloway alone). Universities have even broadened their drinking options to cater the diverse student population. Alongside this, whilst drinking is still promoted as ‘part of the experience’, student bodies are increasingly moving away from the idea that it’s mandatory. Perhaps it’s time for those organising and profiting off Freshers to update their marketing strategy.
So, even though you might feel pressured to adapt to the drinking culture, what is important to remember is that you don’t have to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable. It can be hard to resist it, but you always have the option. There are many other ways to make friends and socialise – trust me.