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Unwanted freshman drinking practices

If given the choice between doing something fun with friends that doesn’t involve alcohol or going out, over 85 percent of Duke’s freshman class responded that they would prefer the option that doesn’t include alcohol. Surprising, isn’t it, at a school that had four alcohol-related EMS calls during O-week this year?

In fact, the more we asked freshmen about their experiences with the drinking culture here at Duke, the more a striking disconnect became evident: at a school with serious alcohol abuse issues and rampant drinking, many students are dissatisfied with this social scene and feel pressured to go along with the crowd. Freshmen responded anonymously with statements like “everyone feels that they need to fit in, especially during o-week, and the way to validate yourself is by drinking. Breaking this misunderstanding would be physically and socially beneficial for everyone” and “I feel like there is a social scene that can only be accessed by drinking. Though I’m not planning to join it, it still feels like there’s some big important thing that I’m not doing.”

As a part of a group project for "Alcohol: Brain, Individual, and Society" taught by Dr. Amir Rezvani, we surveyed more than 10 percent of the freshmen class and found other surprising statistics on freshmen drinking:

  • More than 50 percent of freshmen drank less frequently than once per month before coming to Duke
  • More than 30 percent of freshmen still do not drink
  • 27 percent of freshmen said they did not feel that TrueBlue, AlcoholEdu and other alcohol-related programming adequately prepared them for Duke’s drinking culture

Bothered by the notion that students feel compelled to go out just because everyone else was, our group met with Dr. Lisa Beth Bergene, the dean of East Campus, to talk about ways to practically implement our results. Dr. Bergene discussed how a lack of authenticity in relationships and the need to fit in are what ultimately lead to unsafe freshmen drinking.

Following our meeting, our group decided to flyer at the East Campus bus stop one early morning and handed out 200 flyers to students with these drinking statistics, prompting them with questions such as “how much depth am I creating in my relationships when I go out?” and “how many of my friends know what the most important thing to me is?” The goal of spreading this information was to inspire students to take the initiative to organize fun activities that promote bonding and deep relationships rather than take the easy route and go out if they don’t want to. Although alone it is not a solution, we hope that greater awareness among freshmen of the ubiquity of seeking friendships and wanting to fit in during their first year in college will help students realize that they are not alone in these struggles. In fact, about 85 percent of other students were thinking the same thing last Friday night, but few had the courage to voice it.

The issue of unsafe freshman drinking has long been acknowledged on campus, and programs like Devils After Dark, AlcoholEdu and the Wellness Center have been implemented in an attempt to remedy it. Yet, many who stopped by our table were pleased to see something else being done about it. A member of the housekeeping staff told us of how her daughter was an alcoholic and reminded us of the importance of preventative measures. Professors lingered, asking questions and expressing a desire to see a safer transition for freshmen students. The truth, however, is that, as students, the solution lies within us. It lies within the student who doesn’t want to go to Shooters on Saturday and, instead of pretending he or she does, organizes another fun event in the dorm. It lies within you as you are talking with your friends to take the initiative, to really get to know someone on a deeper level. It lies within us to challenge ourselves and those around us to be more authentic people, better friends and a more supportive, accepting community.

One other remedy that the administration has implemented in the past has been Dr. Amir Rezvani’s course, "Alcohol: Brain, Individual, and Society." This class prompted our study and corresponding implementation. Throughout the semester, we have learned of the dangers of and the science behind addiction and alcoholism, and we have been inspired to apply what we have learned to the broader Duke community. This class embodies what Duke prides itself on: collaboration of different majors, years and social groups; involvement with the broader community of both Duke and Durham; interdisciplinary learning; and a positive benefit on Duke’s social culture. This next year, Duke has elected to end this course offering due to lack of funding. To voice your disagreement with this decision, please petition the chair of the Psychology and Neuroscience Department to make sure the administration knows that we still need classes like this at Duke.

Diana Evans, Jaime Park and William Harris are all Trinity juniors.

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