Last week, an article published in The University News about alcoholism at the University of Dallas missed important opportunities to discuss that culture and possible improvements. By overgeneralizing, making a specious comparison between UD and Baylor University, the author consistently assumed the worst of UD-sponsored public drinking events and the students who attend them without sufficient justification.
I think the approach of looking at alcohol use as primarily a problem limits how we can better the drinking culture at UD. Excessive drinking and intentional drunkenness are certainly problems for the social life of the university and in the latter case, morally evil —see, for instance, St. Paul’s admonition against drunkenness and other acts of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21.
However, the same St. Paul urges St. Timothy to drink wine for the sake of his health, and Jesus himself turns water to wine at Cana. Clearly, the Christian life demands we seek appropriate middle ground between just saying “but this is a Catholic school!” — as if that implies acceptance of drunkenness — and insisting that alcohol is bad and should be prohibited on campus. As a UD alumnus, I have seen my fellow students drink poorly and immoderately, but I have also seen them drink to the effect of social joy, which is always worth encouraging. As someone who pursued graduate studies at a large public university that was a dry campus, I can personally say that such a policy does not eradicate underage drinking or on campus intoxication — it merely moves it further from the public eye into off-campus student apartments, fraternity and sorority houses, and students’ dorm rooms.
Rather than promoting a view of alcohol as a normal part of human life, made to gladden the heart of man, such a policy rather encourages students to view alcohol as a drug, which is more suitable for keg stands and power hours than encouraging conviviality or completing a meal.
The staff of the Baylor Lariat issued an editorial this year suggesting that Baylor’s alcohol policy too often leads to stigmatization of alcohol consumption and limits the space in which students can discuss how to drink responsibly. It seems then, that besides the fact that the reasoning behind dry campus policies is at odds with Catholic tradition, in their effects, such policies do little to promote healthy drinking culture.
I would suggest that what the UD drinking culture needs is not fewer but more events which include public drinking, especially on campus. It seems incongruous to link Wine Down Wednesdays, TGIT, and weekend parties in Old Mill together as more or less similar public occasions where UD students binge drink, when in fact these events vary dramatically in their goals, and in the occasion of serious drunkenness, as I think many who attend them would attest. Events like Wine Down Wednesdays, which allow students to drink with their professors, promote drinking which enhances sociability, rather than encouraging debauchery.
Furthermore, it is past time for UD to alter the sections in the student code of conduct which govern public consumption of alcohol. The rules which govern Due Santi create certain limits in which students are encouraged to drink wine and certain other alcoholic beverages publicly on campus, in what Dominicus Prummer, OP, once called in his Thomistic manual of theology the acceptable way of drinking: usque ad hilaritatem, even unto hilarity.
While I understand that the rules in Rome are different in part because of the difference in the American and Roman legal situation as to underage drinking, allowing of-age students to drink a glass of wine or beer on the Cap Bar patio or other suitable locations could promote a drinking culture where these joys are enjoyed appropriately, rather than only behind closed doors where they often become part of the “unfruitful deeds of darkness” (Eph 5:11).
Cultural change is something that starts on an individual level. While I clearly have ideas by which UD clubs and the Administration can better our drinking culture, the most essential changes come from interacting personally with your peers: not from withdrawing, but engaging and drinking appropriately with one’s friends.