Our kitchen is never that clean, I doubt many of the kitchens in University accommodation are. However, one Thursday morning our kitchen was particularly bad: change was thrown across the table, kebab meat across the floor. Gravy granules joined the remains of chips on a plate on the table and under one of the few un-flipped chairs was a single boot. The other was in the toilet upstairs. Surprisingly, this isn’t that uncommon. At least one of housemates must have had a fairly interesting night, or a “messy” night as they like to call it. I doubt it’s named after the state of the kitchen the next morning.
Every night hundreds of students descend on the city or campus and within a short period of time are completely drunk. Whilst the majority of students have great nights out and work off the stresses of the day a select few wake up fully clothed in bed the next day and have to work out what happened the previous night a la ‘The Hangover’. Often the first clue is a stamp to The Willow Nightclub, after all “you know you’ve had a rough night if you wake up with a Willow stamp on your hand.”
Like most universities in Britain University of York has a serious drinking culture. You are expected to drink. I was told by an incredibly hungover student in one of my lectures that the problem was the Wednesday night netball social which was “not negotiable,” even just before an exam.
There are serious dangers to this excessive consumption of alcohol. I met a student in the centre of York one night who was so drunk that she could barely talk. Sadly we occasionally hear of people going missing in York, often in favourite student drinking areas. It’s not just female students either; male students are equally in danger. As well as having just as much of a chance of being raped, drunkenness is directly linked to nearly 80 per cent of fights in York and numerous students have decided that a late night swim in the Ouse was a good idea; most of them male.
It’s not just a safety issue. We all know the serious health risks of excessive drinking, especially at our age. Experts estimate that alcohol is responsible for 33,000 deaths in the UK each year; whereas liver disease and pancreatitis used to be ailments largely confined to middle and old age, more and more young people are contracting and, sadly, dying from them. Alcohol poisoning and mental health concerns are the most common side effects in students; over 30,000 people were admitted to hospitals in the UK with alcohol poising last year. Furthermore, studies have shown that “messy” nights may be messing up your degree. Edge Hill University has shown that students who regularly get drunk perform much worse than students who drink rarely or not at all.
I’m not trying to condemn alcohol. There are enough people out there who do that already. However, there is clearly a drinking culture at York and this culture makes it very difficult for those who do not drink due to choice, religion or finance. Liverpool University has just won an award for not receiving a single alcohol-related complaint in three years. They make sure to promote sensible drinking and fix soft drink prices so that they are always lower than alcoholic ones.
Yet back here in York YUSU really fails to cater for non-drinkers. A survey circulated around Halifax College by the HCSA came back with a large number of people asking for non-drinking events and socials. The HCSA’s response was to refuse to organise non-alcohol based events as most of the committee are drinkers and saw no merit to these socials. Talking to members of the JCRCs of the other colleges it seems Halifax College is not alone in this view.
I would go as far as to say that University of York could not operate without alcohol. In a YUSU without alcohol how many societies would end? The only connection most subject-specific societies have to their subjects is the theming of that particular week’s bar crawl. The only way some third-years I know got through writing their dissertation was with vodka and Relentless.
Obviously this is exaggeration but there is a serious issue. Can students not have a good time without alcohol? Are people so reliant on the stuff that they cannot understand those who do not drink? How many people come to university and are forced towards alcohol by peer pressure or it being the only way to meet new people? I’m not advocating that alcohol should be banned on campus, they tried that in the US and it didn’t work well – we don’t need a mafia presence on campus. However, there needs to be a greater recognition that not everyone on campus drinks or wants to get drunk most nights. Why should these students not have as many social activities to choose from as others? It’s a serious flaw in the University and one which, if the questions at the YUSU elections hustings are considered, is an issue which next year’s Sabbs need to address.