Several members have pledged to forego alcohol for all of January
During the month of January, binge drinking awareness group What’s Your Cap? has been asking students at the University of Saskatchewan to re-evaluate their alcohol consumption.
“Thinking About My Drinking,” WYC’s student-led campaign, follows five U of S students who have pledged to “go dry” for an entire month. The students were asked to keep track of how sobriety affects their social life, physical health, spending habits and academics.
The event kicked off on Jan. 7 in Upper Place Riel when Annie Stadnyk, Kehan Fu, Kyle Martin, Marek Antia and Dani Robertson-Boersma began their one-month drinking hiatus. Students were invited to meet the participants as well as make their own pledges if they wished.
Robertson-Boersma, one of WYC’s founding members and current graduate advisor, cited physical well-being as her motivation to make the pledge.
“I’ve been working on the whole ‘healthier lifestyle’… I’ve noticed how normal alcohol is within sports teams, or at least the ones that I’m on,” said Robertson-Boersma in a Facebook post. “It isn’t out of place to go for drinks before or after the game, which makes you think how ironic it is. You play sports to stay fit, but then have a pint or two, which can sometimes defeat the purpose.”
Robertson-Boersma, now working towards a master’s degree in sociology, began WYC — previously the U of S Student Binge Drinking Initiative — in 2011 after taking Colleen Dell’s addictions class. Dell, a professor in the department of sociology, still works closely with the organization.
The pledges have been cataloguing their experiences in sobriety on WYC’s Facebook page.
“Waking up Saturday and Sunday, I noticed that I had way more energy,” said Antia, a fourth-year psychology student. “I was way more productive throughout my weekend and I’m feeling great going into the really busy week ahead. I guess I could describe my overall state at this point as being way more clear headed, focused and maybe even a little happier throughout my day. I definitely came out of this weekend feeling way more rested as well.”
Reactions from friends and family ranged from supportive to disdainful.
“It was very tough to not drink when everyone wants you to have a drink with them or take shots… Everyone was pretty upset that I wasn’t drinking and wanted me to quite badly,” said Martin, also a student of psychology. “I just drank Red Bull so I had something in my hands which probably ended up not being the best thing for my body… I also saved probably $15 to $20 on a case of beer to pre-drink at the house then I would have probably ended up spending another $20 to $30 at the bar on drinks, so that’s nice.”
Thinking About My Drinking was designed to examine the factors that cause students to binge drink. Robertson-Boersma said participants have “started questioning their own behaviors for the better.”
“The experience definitely made me appreciate the clarity of mind that comes with sobriety,” said Fu, a political studies major. “How often do we use alcohol as an excuse to address our insecurities or to find some measure of satisfaction with our mundane lives? And let’s be clear, I still love my malt whisky and pale lagers. But I think I’m learning to appreciate drinking without taking it for granted.”
The mandate of WYC is to “give everybody the tips and tricks to safe and healthy drinking,” said market research coordinator Kara Leftley. Leftley is a third-year commerce student majoring in management.
Each year, WYC collects data on the drinking rates of U of S students. This year the group used PAWS to conduct an online study.
“This is the first year that we’ve done it online,” said Leftley. “I’m going to compare the data on how much people drink on campus and see if we’re improving or getting worse year to year.”
So far, WYC’s findings show that 25 per cent of students over-consume, while another 25 per cent of students do not drink alcohol at all.
The group is also hoping to publish their results in the U of S Undergraduate Research Journal. Though for the most part, Leftley said, the group’s goal is “to get the information out in a fun and accessible way.”
WYC is run entirely by undergraduate and graduate students at the U of S, although the group frequently collaborates with the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health, the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, Peer Health Mentors and the Saskatchewan Prevention Institute.
The initiative has inspired other campuses across Canada to begin similar campaigns and WYC has given talks in Vancouver, Edmonton and Halifax. The group has published a guide online for anyone wanting to create programs like WYC elsewhere.
In September, WYC hosted the “toilet campaign” which aimed to raise awareness about binge drinking via brightly-coloured toilets stationed around campus that contain facts about over-consuming alcohol. The group also collaborates closely with St. John’s Ambulance to provide therapy dogs for students, citing high stress levels as a prevalent cause of binge drinking.
On an ongoing basis, WYC allows students to make Party Smart pledges, which are simple actions that students can take to drink more responsibly such as planning a designated driver or prioritizing studying before drinking.
Although Leftley is not participating in Thinking About My Drinking, says she has noticed a significant decline in her drinking since she started working with WYC. The group recommends a maximum of 10 drinks per week for women and 15 for men.
The organization is always looking for new volunteers, and most students who volunteer with WYC get hired on as paid staff.
Students wanting more information on What’s Your Cap? can visit their Facebook page or email the group’s organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org. The group also has a website: www.whatsurcap.ca.