It’s that time of year again — Welcome Week, where campus floods with disoriented faces, SaskTel sponsored giveaways, and most anticipated by returning students, beer gardens.
This article isn’t waxing for the return of Frosh Week, a time of no-holds-barred debauchery beyond the memory of all but the most senior of students, nor is it asking for a Welcome Week totally devoid of alcohol. What I am asking is that students, both new and returning, approach their alcohol consumption through this week quite critically.
What does having a beer garden front and centre at our Welcome Week mean, and what could be the deeper implications of this promotion?
What, to you, is just catching up with friends you haven’t seen since April over a couple of beers can be perceived quite differently from the other side of the fence. This is not to infantilize those impressionable first-years who, let’s face it, most likely already drink. Rather, I want to call awareness to the plain fact that your actions are cementing the ties between university social life and alcohol.
The institutional nature of the beer gardens carries the endorsement of the university behind it, and Great Western wouldn’t be sponsoring the event if they didn’t see marketing value in the prevalent links between drinking and the university experience.
I’m not asking you to boycott the beer gardens, and I’m not calling for their removal, I’m just asking you to be aware. Hearing a senior student boasting about skipping their syllabus classes to down a cold one may seem innocuous, but those claims do not fall on deaf ears. These comments may be humorous between friends, but in combination with media and advertising, they contribute to the normalization of blatantly unhealthy drinking habits.
Whether it’s the beer gardens or an off-campus freshie or a raucous night in the College Quarter, when you’re around people who are facing it all as a brand new experience, it becomes your responsibility to promote healthy drinking habits and include conversations about consent.
Many new students arrive with established unhealthy drinking habits, and while senior students are not necessarily authority figures, their behaviours are on full display. It would be unfortunate to push someone further in the wrong direction in the name of fun. Please be aware that peer pressure exists in forms beyond explicitly telling people to drink.
The University of Saskatchewan continues to make a strong effort to provide opportunities for alcohol-free fun during Welcome Week. On Sept. 7 at 9 p.m., the university’s annual Carless Drive-In will be screening Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The Office of Sustainability is also putting on their Hike, Bike and Roll event, a used bike sale and active-transportation information session on Sept. 7 in front of the Arts Building. There will also be sponsor- provided activities in the Bowl that don’t involve alcohol.
Is this really enough, though? This year’s three-day Welcome Week festivities come to a close at the climactic Huskies football home opener on Sept. 9, a Friday night. This is not going to be an alcohol free event, and with no clear alternative, students who have a hard time saying no to alcohol will definitely be drinking.
It’s undeniable that, going forward, there will continue to be a place for drinking in Welcome Week, and that’s okay. I am in no position to tell anyone that they can or cannot partake. However, with the shadow of a non-university-affiliated back-to-school party that sent four students to the hospital in 2016 looming over us, a conscious effort to provide alternatives to drinking events and to address campus binge-drinking culture is needed from the institution, faculty and students alike.
Photo: University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Photograph Collection, A-2976