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Newsletter > March 2001 > "THERE IS SUCH A THING AS “TOO MUCH FUN”"
THERE IS SUCH A THING AS “TOO MUCH FUN”
(Reprinted with permission from The Trident, an independent student publication of Washington and Lee University)
There is entirely too much drinking on the W&L campus, and it causes people to get hurt and killed.
I have been wanting to write an article about this since I first came to W&L two years ago, but I never felt it was the right time to criticize many fellow students’ and friends’ favorite pastime at the possible cost of some of those relationships. However, after the tragic events of Homecoming Weekend, including the deaths of two W&L students and injuries of others in alcohol-related incidents, this article can no longer be put off.
I am not one of those people who thinks drinking in itself is some unpardonable sin. I have grown up in a family in which alcohol was enjoyed in moderation. I personally disagree with underage drinking and do not think it is a behavior that becomes honorable, gentlemanly students. But let’s put that aside for now.
The real problem at W&L is not drinking, but drunkenness. And not so much drunkenness, but habitual drunkenness, and the treatment of drunkenness as not only acceptable, but also even laudable.
I have been to so many parties where I have seen people kneeling by the toilet bowl, miserable. I have held girls’ heads as they have cried and promised never to drink again… only to get drunk again the following weekend.
Why does this happen?
I have known people who came to college with a strong principled belief against underage drinking and drunkenness. I have seen their supposed friends pressure them into drinking. I have seen these people get into dangerous situations in which they have come very close to abandoning every principle they ever had, much to their regret later. I have seen people transform from self-respecting, self-controlled people to ones who can only feel good about themselves after getting drunk. I have seen girls who would dream with me about romance and true love and their knight in shining armor convince themselves that all they will ever be able to get are drunken hook-ups that leave them feeling cheap and unloved.
Why does this happen? And why do we let this happen?
[The real problem at W&L is not drinking, but drunkenness. And not so much drunkenness, but habitual drunkenness, and the treatment of drunkenness as not only acceptable, but also even laudable.]
I am not sure why it happens, but there are some definite ways how it happens. There is an infrastructure in place at W&L that supports and promotes drinking and drunkenness.
Part of this infrastructure is tradition. One “great” W&L tradition is drinking oneself out of one’s mind. How this became a tradition, I am not sure. Somehow I do not think it was a part of orientation during Robert E. Lee’s presidency here. However, at some point, it did become tradition. And people are loathe to part from it.
The Greek system perpetuates this tradition. Older fraternity brothers pressure pledges to take up the habit, which they then hand on to the next class and so on. Freshmen come to fraternity parties and get the feeling that “everyone’s doing it.” Upperclassmen, who know everyone is not doing it, do not care enough about these freshmen to risk getting some flak from friends for telling them. So, wanting to fit in more than anything else, freshmen take up the habit, also. And the cycle continues.
[One would think that at a school full of such bright people, some intellectual discourse on this topic would be welcomed. Not so.]
Professors have accepted drunkenness as part of life at W&L. I cannot say how many classes I have had in which the professor made some kind of joke about student drunkenness. While I am sure they are just trying to show students that they are “fun” and not stodgy intellectuals who cannot relate to the students, they are in fact normalizing this very dangerous behavior. How can a student possibly get out of the rut of drunkenness if his professor is sending messages that it is normal and acceptable?
Students that have been here for a few years, even if they are violently opposed to drunkenness, begin to just accept that it is “the way things are” at W&L.
One would think that at a school full of such bright people, some intellectual discourse on this topic would be welcomed. Not so. Those few who dare to speak up on this topic quickly shut up. I have no doubt that this article will ostracize me from many people at W&L, as a similar one ostracized a friend of mine our freshman year. In fact, even he will probably tell me that I am being far too serious about this whole thing. But if I am not serious, who else will be? If I do not speak out and say something is wrong, who will? No one has, and people are dying as a result.
My primary duty is not to W&L recruitment – my primary duty is not to lie about the problem to let the school save face. My primary duty is not to my friends in the Greek system, to ignore the problems in their system in hopes of encouraging a freshmen class to rush and pledge without thinking of any possible consequences. My primary duty is to let people know what I’ve seen in my years here, and warn them of the dangers. My primary duty is to the beloved classmates of ours who did not wake up this morning and go to class as we did, who will never have that chance again.
I love W&L, and I love all the people I know here. So it hurts to see what people are doing to themselves. You do not have to drink . You do not have to get drunk. I have had one of the best college experiences of anyone I know and have not had a drop of alcohol at a party.
If you disagree with my take on drinking, that is your prerogative. But please still think. Set boundaries before you start drinking. If you have been drinking at all, do not drive. If you do not drink, please watch out for any friends that choose to. Please do not write this article off right away. Think about it. Drunkenness kills.
According to The Roanoke Times, two weeks after the Homecoming Weekend deaths, Washington & Lee’s President John Elrod called a student assembly to decry alcohol abuse. President Elrod also appointed a task force to “reflect upon the culture of alcohol” at the school and make recommendations on how to control it, according to his memo to the task force. As of early February, no conclusions or proposals had been made.