Or Not To Drink?

You don't have to imbibe to enjoy

The Harvard-Yale tailgate this year opened the proverbial Pandora’s Box of Harvardian drinking woes. Despite the College’s keg ban, the Boston police were shocked to find out that students were imbibing extreme amounts of hard alcohol. While those of us who attended The Game last year at the Yale Bowl feel that our celebration, while enjoyable, was the Euro Disney of tailgates, the police feel differently. And perhaps for good reason.

Last year, The Crimson covered a story about Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71, and his plan of attack on alcoholism at Harvard. In an email, Gross stated that the social options at Harvard must change “so that intoxication is not viewed as a reasonable way to spend an evening.” The danger that alcohol presents to students in a bustling city campus has many manifestations. The inherent hazards of drinking large quantities of alcohol are obvious to any of us who have held back a roommate’s hair in our suite bathroom at three in the morning, and more obvious still to those of us who have had our hair held back, or perhaps even been a guest at University Health Services for a weekend night. The less obvious, though still largely publicized, risks are especially serious for females, with sexual assault and rape, happening at a much higher frequency when alcohol is involved.

This isn’t a diatribe against liquor. As a sophomore of the legal drinking age of 20, I wholly endorse spending as many nights intoxicated (or otherwise influenced) as possible. Perhaps, however, there are other options. By other options, I don’t mean gatherings in Loker Commons, or Undergraduate Council film screenings in the science center. I mean getting dressed up, going out, partying hard, but not drinking. You think this doesn’t happen, but you’re wrong. See that girl dancing next to you at the Delphic with the tight jeans, sexy cami, dazzling earrings and gorgeous smile? She very well might be sober—and so might be her cute friend.

This year I became acquainted with a few anomalies in the boozing capital that is Harvard. These are beautiful, social Harvard women go out every night, but don’t imbibe. I sat down with my blockmates and friends, Jennifer M. Markham ’07, Lindsay M. Burton ’07 and Victoria B. Ilyinsky ‘07 who described their experiences at Harvard sans beer, Bacardi, or anything of the like.

Their decisions not to drink weren’t motivated by religion, overbearing parents, or a need to do biochemistry at nine in the morning. Generally, it was merely the desire not to be caught in situations where they didn’t feel completely in control. Victoria aptly told me she prefers “to remember her night.” Many of us have had negative experiences in high school, or college, which have left us similar feelings. Though perhaps we were not wholly converted.

Many students are uncomfortable with the stigma of being the one person who isn’t drinking, feeling it leaves them isolated and out of the loop. Jennie feels differently, “I think you have to realize that you can come out of your shell just as much as a sober person around drunk people as you can as the drunk person around sober people,” she told me. However, the former is much safer. Victoria also let me know that, contrary to what many of us feel, being sober makes her feel more confident when talking to guys. She revealed that “guys find it challenging” to hit on a girl who isn’t necessarily falling all over them (due to lack of trust in her own two heels.) And, she noted, they respect you a lot more for not being that girl.

What I found in our conversations was not bitterness or militancy towards alcohol, but rather openness and even enjoyment of the concept of inebriation. “I wouldn’t want everyone else to stop drinking,” Jennie told me, “It would make Harvard an incredibly boring place to be.” We can all (excluding, perhaps, the administration) readily admit that alcohol is not going to leave campus, nor can everyone be dissuaded from drinking. The idea is, however, that if you aren’t comfortable being drunk, you should know that you don’t have to be. And you won’t be socially exiled.

I’ll toast (some sparkling cider) to that.

Lauren R. Foote ’07, a Crimson editorial comper, is a Romance Languages and Literatures concentrator in Currier House.