There are students who find life beyond Red Solo cups
By Alex Stratyner
It’s Friday night, and John, a junior at Haverford College, is hiding in a cabinet.
This is no small feat for a fully grown twentysomething male, but so far his plan is working: it’s been over 15 minutes and no one has found him.
Outside, parties are in full swing. Students who have spent the past five days walking to and from class and the library have put their academic commitments on hold.
Tonight, they are pursuing something different and far more easy to define than the illusive “intellectual commitment” that consumes their academic work week.
They want to get wasted. Shit-faced. Trashed. Smashed. Blasted. Hammered. Drunk.
Call it what you want, but it comes in a red Solo cup.
Dressed in their Friday night best, students filter in and out of dorms, headed toward wherever the sound of muffled dance music is coming from, the bass vibrations guiding the way. Girls spotted in sweat pants during the week have pulled their high heels out of the closet and now have smoky eyes, pouty lips, and styled hair. Their shoes clack against the sidewalk as they make their way toward the night’s destination.
For many of these 18 to 22-year-olds, what’s in store for tonight is illegal, but underage drinking – and any of the poor choices to follow – are explained away with six little words: “It’s part of the college experience.”
In Drinker, one of the aptly named Haverford student residences, a keg is being tapped and some unfortunate soul is being hoisted up by his legs in preparation for a keg stand. In Lloyd 50s, another student residence, a girl on her sixth shot of vodka has yet to realize she’s taken one too many.
So is John hiding in the cabinet because he’s drunk and doesn’t want to get caught by the cops?
No. John is sober.
Why has he crammed himself into a cabinet?
Simple. He’s playing hide-and-seek.
A ha! Found you! shout a gang of students, all out of breath.
Finally! sighs one. How’d you fit in there?
Another game? asks someone else.
When asked how she and her friends came up with the idea to play hide-and-seek in the Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center – the INSC, as Haverford students call it – Genna Andreas, now a senior at Haverford, shrugs.
“Somebody in my friend group had the brilliant idea of ‘let’s play hide-and-seek,’ and then we decided that there weren’t enough hiding places in our dorms – what are you going to do, hide in someone else’s dorm room?” she says, laughing. “But a lot of my friends are science majors and they realized that the INSC had a lot of good hiding places, so it kind of went from there.”
“Occasionally, spontaneously,” she adds, “it will be decided that no one can think anymore so we should go play around… It’s just a really fun time.”
Andreas and her friends, who are now all 21, rarely drink. And before they turned 21, few, if any, ever drank.
This group of friends is part of a small group of students on Haverford’s campus who have made an uncommon choice among the college’s student body – not to spend their
weekends getting drunk. To use an old-fashioned word, they’re teetotalers.
And though they may be in the minority, they’re not alone. In a recent survey of 329 Haverford students – roughly one-quarter of the student body-roughly 16 percent of Haverford students said that they don’t drink.
On a campus where police rarely show up to hand out underage drinking citations and the college’s own alcohol policy does not punish students who are caught with alcohol, why do some students choose to abstain? And what’s it like to be one Haverford’s teetotalers?
Though Andreas’ group of friends and other Haverford students like them have all made the choice not to drink alcohol while at college – or, as Andreas, now 21, noted, to drink only occasionally and not with the intention of getting drunk – the reasons for their choices vary.
Andreas, for example, finds herself disinterested in alcohol because her family never treated it like an illicit, taboo substance.
“Alcohol wasn’t mysterious to me,” Andreas said. “It wasn’t this big, huge forbidden thing. My parents were awesome. They did not drink that heavily at all – a glass of wine with dinner sometimes – but I always knew that if I wanted to have some they would give me so it wasn’t this big, mysterious, forbidden thing that you have to go out and get.”
Rebecca Knowles, a sophomore, also thinks that her decision to teetotal stems from her open relationship with her parents and the way in which they treat the issue of drinking.
“They’re generally pretty supportive of whatever I would want to do with alcohol so long as I am being responsible,” she said.
For senior Lauren Dickey, drinking didn’t appeal to her because of her experiences prior to high school.
“In high school, I witnessed friends become obsessed with alcohol so that that was the only thing that parties centered around,” she said. “And when you didn’t want to get black-out drunk, there would be nothing to do.” By the time she arrived at college, alcohol “wasn’t really that interesting.”
For others, like senior Rob Mathis, whose relatives have struggled with alcoholism, the choice not to drink was “a purposeful, conscious” decision to maintain his sobriety.
Senior Andrew Lanham, 23, abstains because he is an athlete. “I drink occasionally,” he said, “but I tend not to participate in the larger party scene… Any
potential alcohol intake is limited to specific times of the year when there’s no potential ramifications for athletics.”
There are also students like sophomore Haig Minassian, who choose not to drink for religious purposes. Minassian, a devout Christian, said that drinking alcohol is not strictly against his faith. Still, he chooses not to drink because he worries about doing things while intoxicated that would keep him from “living a life that my Lord wants me to live.”
Though Haverford’s teetotalers all have diverse personal reasons for making the choice not to drink, one factor does unite them all.
When asked why, even at 22, he rarely drinks, senior Ryan Mulligan immediately knows the answer.”I’m somewhat afraid of losing control of myself,” he said, “not in terms of controlling my alcohol consumption, but in terms of feeling as if I am in control of my actions.”
Mulligan is not alone. The desire to be in control of one’s own actions – and the fear that alcohol has the potential to interfere with this – is echoed by many of Haverford’s teetotalers. The sentiment is fitting at Haverford, a historically Quaker institution where students still abide by both social and academic honor codes that emphasize personal responsibility.
Of course, the majority of students do drink. And Mulligan worries that saying he doesn’t drink because he values self-control implies that he looks down on those who do drink.
“I wonder how much of my friends and I saying that we don’t drink because we want to feel in control of ourselves hides a moral judgment,” Mulligan said. “I hope I don’t feel it, because I don’t want to, as a Haverford student, think poorly of my fellow students, but I wonder how much of this is wanting to make some moral, some kindergarten teacher part of me proud.”
Others, like Lanham, a self-deemed “control freak,” argue that the statement need not be taken judgmentally.
“Losing lucidity is not something that appeals to me particularly… But I completely understand that urge and I’ve felt it myself. We all have competing desires, and for me the desire to remain in control happens to be stronger. But I don’t think when I talk about control I mean it in some kind of judgmental way… I don’t think there’s any higher
level of my thinking that’s saying ‘We’re going to pick this way of being instead of that one because I’m better at managing which of my urges I follow.'”
Blowing Off Steam… Sober
Though getting drunk may not be the goal of their Friday and Saturday nights, Haverford’s teetotalers still know how to have a good time – and it doesn’t always involve running around the INSC.
Some non-drinkers, like Minassian, enjoy going to parties. Though Minassian is often one of only a few people at a party who isn’t drinking, he says this doesn’t bother him. Although many of his friends do drink, he says that they respect his decision not to drink and never pressure him. Andreas also said that she goes to her “fair share” of parties every semester.
In addition to parties, the college also organizes trips, dances, concerts, and other events for students. Though alcohol isn’t served, it is widely acknowledged that many students “pregame” dances and concerts- get drunk before going to the event. Non-drinking students have mixed feelings about this.
“A lot of parties say they start at 10 but really start at midnight so that people can pregame,” said Andreas. That’s kind of annoying because I do not like showing up at 11
and there being only five people on the dance floor – and four of them are my roommates.”
But Mulligan says that the drunk people at these events often add to the fun.
“I went to a dance this year where people started a conga line and I stood back and was shaking my head until somebody in the line grabbed me and brought me in, seeing how I was looking skeptical, and I thought that was fun,” said Mulligan. “I bet you that girl was drunk, but I’m glad she helped me have fun. But at the same time I don’t feel like I needed alcohol to enjoy that moment.”
Andreas says that she and her friends also spend a lot of nights just hanging out with each other.
“We do what other people do,” she said. “We play Wii a lot, we play Rock Band, we mess around, we sit and talk, we just don’t drink when we’re doing it.”
To say that all of Haverford’s teetotalers spend their weekends socializing isn’t entirely true, however, as Mulligan pointed out.
“There’s a group of people who don’t feel a part of the Haverford College social community and sort of frown on that community,” he said. “There are people who come to Haverford, see a bunch of rich white kids who have been brought up to know that once they finish high school they’ll go drink in college, and they see that and they don’t like it. They are here for their studies.”
Though they might stand out among the sea of red plastic cups, the Haverford’s teetotalers don’t regret their decision. In fact, a lot of them are having a good time.
“We’re not the nerds who aren’t getting any and who stay in and study physics on a Saturday night,” said Andreas of her friends and fellow teetotalers. “We’re just normal people.”