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A History of Drinking and Party Culture in Universities

Gloria Badibanga 

Staff Writer

Via The Independent  

University seems to be a very pivotal time in life for several people. Not only is the age when most people start university seen as a transitional period to adulthood, but for many, it also allows them to move away from their parents for the first time. University, for many, can also be seen as the last opportunity for fun until you get into the "real world." With this comes a new sense of freedom and a new load of responsibilities. 

One thing that many universities across the globe have in common is the presence of party culture, more specifically in regards to drinking. Most students who haven't consumed alcohol before attending university will most likely do so for the first time during their university experience. How heavily "party culture" is linked to a university is influenced by many factors, such as the location and the general habits of the people who make up the student body of the institutions. While enrolled in post-secondary education, some students might drink excessively, while others may not drink at all. Regardless of the disparities, not many take the time to think: "what led to drinking and party culture being so heavily associated with universities in the first place?" 

In the last 300 years, party culture in universities underwent many changes to become what it is known to be today. During the colonial era, most people who attended post-secondary institutions were middle-class white men studying to become ministers or professors. Back then, universities had strict rules, were a lot more controlling concerning the students' lives, and students were subject to punishments and penalties in any instance of deviance. Essentially, during this time, despite no longer living with their parents, students were seen as the university's responsibility, which isn't the case anymore. The "parties" that would occur during those times more so resembled formal party dinners, where the universities would need to be notified, and there would often be some level of supervision. 

A subtle shift occurred when elite families sent their wealthy sons to universities. Oftentimes, these wealthy sons weren't actually interested in academia; rather, they were more eager to use a diploma to validate their families' accumulation of riches and status. These students were a lot harder to control and discipline. 

Subsequently, in the 1800s, fraternities emerged, boasting of their elitism and promoting a wild and irresponsible way of life. This was nowhere near the party culture seen in universities today since most universities weren't co-educational spaces until the 1960s, and most of the "parties" that would go on during this time were still quite formal.  

With historical events such as the two World Wars, most social events, gatherings, and "parties" were practically non-existent on campus throughout the 30s and 40s. The majority of people left on campus were women, while most men were in service for the army. 

Via Queen’s Journal

Drinking and party culture in universities took a drastic shift in the 1960s with the "sex revolution." This is where the party and drinking culture present in many universities today became possible. Students were regarded as being responsible for their behaviour rather than universities, like once in the past, and now students could go and do as they liked without fear of facing harsh disciplinary action from their classmates or school for the first time. The lack of supion and the increase in freedom made drinking a common behaviour among many students in post-secondary schools. It's also important to keep in mind, that back then, the drinking age in the United States was inferior to 21 in over half of the states.

As previously mentioned, before the 1960s, a lot of universities were not only segregated by race but also by sex. Due to this shift in social life, parties could now be held inside a single dorm or even on a single floor instead of requiring students to plan gatherings at an off-campus residence or fraternity, which led to parties in universities being something frequent on campuses. 

Media, mainly television, movies, and certain genres of music, also influenced students to copy the partying behaviours portrayed on the screen and find inspiration from lyrics talking about "party adjacent" matters such as drinking and sex. 

The roots of drinking and party culture in universities aren't extremely clear since drinking has been prevalent in society for thousands of years. However, the origins of party and culture drinking we see today in most post-secondary institutions seem to stem from university students from the 1960s and 1970s seeking liberation and a sense of freedom through rebelling. 

Today, many people enter universities where drinking and partying are a given, regardless of whether they decide to partake or abstain from the culture. Whatever the reason may be, whether that be stress, social pressure, or trying to cope with personal problems, it's important to remember that irresponsible drinking can come with a string of long-term effects and that there is a distinction to be made between stepping beyond your comfort zone for long-term benefits and doing something discomforting only to "fit in."



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