Amherst: We Work Hard. We Play Hard.

Question – what does it mean to “drink casually”? Is it a drinking game in which you roll dice to make others drink while lying down on a couch? Is it drinking from a straw while making eyes at that cute guy across the room? Is it drinking in slippers, pajama pants and last year’s orientation T-shirt? Do you have no idea? Yea… I don’t either.

How did he even get in there???

****DISCLAIMER: In this post I do NOT mean to suggest that all Amherst students party hard, or even drink at all. I do NOT intend to generalize the Amherst population in any way. I am merely speaking from my perspective.******

An ongoing discussion among administrators and health professionals on campus is how to combat binge drinking and reduce the number of ACEMS calls, vomit-covered bathrooms, and comatose first-years each weekend. Contrary to popular belief, there is very little push towards making Amherst a “dry” campus (whatever that means). There is concern, however, regarding how much, how fast, and how unsafely we drink. An opinion (not popular among professors, needless to say) is that an unforeseen result of Amherst’s incredibly competitive, all-encompassing, academic environment is a partying culture that matches academics in fervor. The pendulum swing between schoolwork and partying has an equal intensity on both ends. In other words, we work hard = we play hard.

Been there.

The worry is that students are justifying unhealthy drinking habits in response to the (sometimes unhealthy) stress, sleep loss, and eye strain that comes from their overloaded academic and extracurricular commitments. Now, I’m not totally sold on this, because I believe that students as smart as those at Amherst aren’t drinking heavily just to balance out academics – that is too simplifying a theory. I do, however, think that the concern is justified. Competitive and driven students might feel as though partying hard is the only release from the stressful environment. People often use phrases like “I just need a drink” or “I just need to go out to take my mind off it”. The harder fought the sports victory – the louder the music. The more difficult the test – the stronger the drink. The longer the week – the faster the pregame.

But its not just the kind of drinking that has me stressed. The newly developed Amherst “Mental Health Task Force” (these guys are awesome, truly) has done a number of focus groups geared towards getting a read on campus trends and behaviors. One of their findings that I shocked me was that many Amherst students feel that going out is the only activity that they can justifiably stop work for. Think about the implications here. I see myself as a relatively well-balanced individual. I can go out and not drink, and when I choose to drink, I often do in moderation. But this sentiment absolutely rings true for me. I have SO much trouble putting work aside to watch a movie, or even just to sit around with friends on the quad. How could I possibly stop working just to sit and relax for two hours? But ask me to waste a whole night and part of the next morning in hangover glory – you betcha!

What is it about partying and going out that makes it so much more alluring and reasonable than reading a book or going out with friends to dinner or a concert? Rationally, those other activities are just as good (and probably better) for my mental health in the middle of a stressful athletic or academic period. But for whatever reason – be it an intense response to intense academic stress or an innate love for urine stained carpets and windowsill dancing – nothing can get me to throw down work as fast as the promise of a chance to dress up and sing at the top of my lungs to shitty speakers bumping last month’s shitty tunes.

I don’t really have an answer (or a conclusion….) but this was a topic on my mind and DAMNIT I WILL BLOG IT. All I can say is that the culture of casual drinking barely exists at Amherst, and I think that is kind of sad. I’m all for the extra slow wine-drunk with four friends in a dorm room, or the beers with friends on a couch watching football game. Hell, I think bar night might even be better for promoting slower and more relaxed drinking – Wha? What’s that? No more funding for senior bar night? SHIT.


Happy first week of classes!
– BTphonehome