An article in this morning’s Ottawa Citizen (“Looking for some good clean fun: Kids, this is not your parents’ frosh week” ) poked some good clean fun at the current version of frosh week in Canadian universities. Movie nights with mom and dad, inspirational speeches, and giant fruit salads—well, frosh weeks of thirty years ago didn’t feature those kinds of events.
Colleges and universities began transforming frosh week from drink-fest to dry-inspirational-team-building-event a few years ago after students from several different institutions died during frosh week. The deaths were alcohol related. Colleges and universities wanted to prevent this, and not just for legal reasons. They didn’t want their students to die or seriously harm themselves, because colleges and universities strive to improve our human condition, not harm it.
My daughter is participating in this new version of frosh week. She’s having a blast.
Yesterday I asked her what her favourite part was. She said, “The Buried Life“ guys. (When these guys ask students what they want to do before they die, they’re talking about death in the long distance future, not during frosh week as a result of alcohol poisoning.) These four guys spend their time encouraging themselves and others to not feel buried. Their presentation stirred the blood of the new students and inspired them to pursue their dreams. No shot glasses required.
Her second favourite part involved outdoor games and competitions. She got to know the other people in her residence and she had fun. No “chug, chug, chug” required.
Thirty years ago, my own version of frosh week was not so wholesome. (I was, though. As pure as the driven snow.) The words, “Chug, chug, chug” were said more than once. But that’s not the part of the week I remember. I was 500 miles away from home and I knew no one. For me frosh week was about friendships formed, fears eased and fun.
What I needed from my university frosh week was this:
- support in meeting people and making friends
- a way to make me feel part of the university family and help me to identify with them as my team
- inspiration to make me believe I could do the work
Those goals can be achieved without alcohol. Perhaps those goals are best achieved without alcohol.
Now, I’m not so naive as to believe that no alcohol is consumed during frosh week. According to my daughter, there are parties every night. But the new version of frosh week is a start. It’s the beginning of a “smart alcohol” approach. Alcohol at its best provides pleasure and enhances a social gathering. Alcohol at its worst destroys pleasure and harms those who consume it, maybe even kills them.
It’s going to take some time for colleges and universities to leave the frosh week reputation behind.
One of my daughter’s friends wasn’t allowed to participate in the events. Her father said, “It’s just an excuse to get drunk.” She missed out on meeting people and making new friends. She missed the events that would make her feel part of the team. She missed out on inspirational speakers that would help her to feel that she could do the work. She missed the fun. And that’s a shame.
With a little more time, and a little more education, frosh week will evolve to fulfill all the right goals for all the students. No vomiting required.