Alcohol Doesn’t Have To Be The Focus Of Freshers


Tabitha Kaye examines the binary between 'alcoholic' and 'sober' Freshers, as well as the pitfalls of drinking stereotypes.

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Image by Image Credit Kbatz, Pixabay.

By Tabitha Kaye

I can barely remember my Freshers Week. And, before you ask, this wasn’t due to a week-long alcohol-induced coma, nor was it my failure to retrieve Snapchat pictures I had taken with a complete stranger in Salvo’s toilets. Alas, I had simply ‘chickened out’ of Freshers.

In the summer leading up to university I had scoured the deepest depths of YouTube looking at Freshers vlogs and advice videos. In his poetic anthology, ‘Birds, Bevs, Boys’, YouTuber Ricky Langdale departed this poignant piece of wisdom: “you’re not using alcohol to make friends, you’re just using it to bring out you” - a sure enough reason to get intoxicated. Granted, the majority of other videos mitigated this claim by urging less ardent drinkers to join in anyway. However, the bottom line was cemented: regardless of your position on the drinking scale, alcohol was still the prerequisite for any type of initial university bonding.

For someone who had spent their college career in a comfortable bubble of social drinking, the science was barely far-fetched. Plus, confidence by digital osmosis was flowing at a steady rate – adhering to the ethos of my YouTube gurus, I simply couldn’t afford to waste this week of unique opportunity.

With this in mind, you can imagine my surprise when our flat was turned into a social hub mere hours after my parents had left - and I didn’t feel like joining in. Our STYCs had produced a hardy stock of Nisa vodka and were set on partying. I, on the other hand, was still fretting about organising my cutlery. Had I fallen at the first hurdle?

The point was – I felt strange. Abnormal. Looking back, it seems ridiculous: I was someone who had grown up in the Norfolk countryside (what even was clubbing outside of Norwich?) and I now found myself living 4 hours away from home for the first time. In hindsight, the idea that I even considered not giving myself time to adjust seemed absurd. While people deal with homesickness and the anxiety of change in different ways – some needing the welcome distraction of a night out – I couldn’t understand why this relegated me to the side-lines.

Since the forced reconfiguration of Freshers in 2020, there has been a marked change in university advice. Refreshingly, a focus has been maintained on getting to know people outside the blurred club atmosphere, and many guides have become more earnest in terms of a ‘sober’ freshers and are more adept to the pressures of drinking. Yet, I can’t help but notice that a sharp binary between high-level drinking and sobriety still prevails for some colleges at York.

In addition to my general university research, I took it upon myself to enrol in a more York specific education. Taking to various York-related social media pages, I found college stereotypes were cemented firmly: the ‘party’ colleges are generally Hes-East – aside from Derwent’s infamous reputation – while the remaining colleges were more studious and meeker (except for Halifax – all I learnt from Instagram is that they had silverfish).

While these are harsh stereotypes, they go some way to explain the difference in college Freshers for this year. In terms of inclusivity, Vanbrugh hit the ball out of the park: opportunities for casual drinking were a-plenty with an introduction to their famed ‘Jazz Night’, ‘Paint and Prosecco’, and Netflix party alternatives for those who weren’t feeling the clubbing urge.

I was pleased to see many Hes-East colleges adapting their Freshers to offer more day-time events, such as campus-orientation trips to Courtyard, and games nights; a vast improvement on the never-materialised trip to Mecca Bingo we were offered. Despite this, club nights continue to take precedence in early advertising, with sober activities scarcely elaborated upon (as Constantine’s teaser Instagram post read: ‘Constantine club nights, pub-crawls, non-drinking events’)

For the ‘party colleges’, it appears that 2020 was a Covid-induced ‘blip’, while others have harnessed the experience of last year and have upped their game. Nothing epitomises this more than the grabbing interrogative YUSU issued on advertisements for ‘Returners’ tickets: “ Did you miss out on a normal Freshers’ Week last year?”

By no means is this an attempt to villainise Freshers week, nor is an attempt to snub the immense effort put into organising events for each college every year. We all want to let off a bit of steam after the turmoil of 2020, and I respect that for many this is manifested into ‘partying hard.’

And, if you are a casual drinker entering into a college renowned for its ‘sesh-mentality’ – don’t worry! Even though a binary between ‘all-or-nothing’ drinking and sobriety is more present in some colleges, the increase in day-time events show that every programme is taking a step in the right direction.

It’s a cliché, but Freshers is what you make of it. That doesn’t mean you should ‘try harder’ with alcohol if that isn’t your cup of tea, as I interpreted it back in 2019, but it does present an opportunity to explore different aspects of university life outside of the drinking bubble in those first moments.