Everyone has heard the stories – out of control parties, drinking from standing to passed out and run-ins with the cops Thursday through Saturday nights. Kesha’s in the background telling you that we’re gonna die young and Asher Roth loves drinking, women and of course – college. That’s just college life, right? Not exactly. Actually, as the CWU Wellness Center is here to tell us, not at all.
The Wellness Center received a grant from the NCAA that provides them with funding for a Social Norms campaign, the point of which is to, as Wellness Center Health Educator Andrea Easlick puts it, “narrow the gap between perception and reality.” The perception is that life in college intrinsically smells like beer, when the reality is in the statistics found in a survey done of CWU students last spring.
A main feature of the campaign are the posters that can be seen campus-wide. The theme this year is “Party Animals” and each poster features a different party animal character including Thirsty Terry the elephant, Kerry Kegger the rhino, Wino Willie the giraffe and Gerry Growler the cheetah. Thirsty Terry and Kerry Kegger drank five or less drinks the last time they partied, just like 76% of CWU students and the majority of CWU NCAA athletes. Wino Willie and Gerry Growler drink less than once a month or not at all, just like two thirds of the CWU student population and 47% of the CWU freshman population. So, if the clear majority of CWU surveyed students reported that they either don’t drink at all or don’t engage in high-risk drinking, why does it seem like an alcohol-soaked weekend is the norm?
Imagine you’re in class on Monday, and someone is telling the story of a party they went to last weekend. Even if the details they provide are completely accurate – there were over 100 people there, everyone was wasted, the cops cleared it out – that doesn’t mean that that’s the average CWU student’s Friday night. There are approximately 11,000 students attending CWU and the student survey made clear that alcohol is not a necessary part of college culture. The sensationalized stories, like the infamous Four Loko incident, become ingrained in our brains, clouding our perception of what college life really entails.
When I discussed the campaign with Easlick she told me, “I’ve heard students say that they think high-risk drinking is a rite of passage in college, but it doesn’t have to be.” The statistics show that not only does it not have to be, but that for the majority of CWU students it isn’t. It would be ridiculous to say that there have never been raging parties here or that no student spends their weekend making memories they won’t necessarily remember. But it would be far more ridiculous to suggest that that lifestyle is the average CWU student’s average weekend. Let’s just turn Kesha down a bit on the radio, and let the cloud on our perception of college life clear.