Drinking culture and prudence, where do we stand?

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Social drinking at UD. Photo by Lauren Hill

As all good Catholics do, here at the University of Dallas we drink. We drink to the health of our friends and their good fortune, such as in the Irish folk song, “The Parting Glass,” and we drink for every other reason in between. One of our most beloved traditions is Groundhog, another large party with lots of booze and spirits flowing. 

Drinking is a huge part of UD life and culture, but after a year and a half of attending this university I am not so sure that is a good thing. Drinking in and of itself does not negate or preclude virtue. After all, as Shakespeare says in Act 2 Scene III of “The Twelfth Night,” “Do you think because you are virtuous, that there shall be no more cakes and ale?” 

Having a drink with friends to wind down in the evening or sharing a bottle of wine  over a meal is part of participating in and fostering culture, and it is life-giving to both body and soul. However, my own experience tells me that drinking culture has taken on a life of its own, one that I am not sure is in line with our Catholic way of life. 

My freshman year of college was the infamous COVID-19 year. Social events on campus were small and limited for everyone, and most clubs and lectures were a hybrid of Zoom and in person meetings. So perhaps my experience is unique compared to other classes, but after talking to various friends on campus I realized that perhaps my experience is not so unique after all. 

My perception of the social setting of UD is such that booze seems to be the primary way people relate to each other. Unfortunately, this particular type of drinking is not having a glass of wine to wind down with friends or sharing alcohol over dinner, but its end is always for the purpose of getting wasted with your friends. 

Being drunk, or at least having been drunk, is seen as a badge of honor. Hangover recovery is a bonding experience, and the previous night’s shenanigans make for a great story to tell your friends the next day. 

Most of the greatest social gatherings, whether they are on or off campus, involve some sort of booze: Friday night gatherings in the woods, ragers in the Mill, Groundhog, Oktoberfest, Fall Fest, TGIT, Progressives, just to name a few, are all centered around the distribution of liquor. Events on campus are well attended if liquor is present, but without liquor they are dry, pardon the pun. 

I do wonder though, how does this drinking culture square with the Catholic faith and philosophy we so ardently profess? Is our Friday or Saturday night life consistent with our Sunday morning? Confession is not, or at least should not be, our “get out of jail free” card. 

Where is the prudence, where is the temperance that we learn about in Philosophy in the Ethical Life? How does a rich education falter in its application?

I have yet to see justifications that truly answer those questions. Typically they run along the lines of, “We’re young, it’s all in good fun,” or,  “We’re Catholic, not Protestants.” I think it’s striking that the only way people cope with their lives or find friends is with a beer in their hand. 

On the other hand, to not participate in drinking culture is isolating. Finding friends who share your values is challenging, and it’s hard to not feel left out if you choose to not drink to excess. It is possible, but when drinking culture is so institutionalized, it can feel as if you are missing out on the “UD experience.” 

Ultimately, I do believe it comes down to what we view as our end. If we are able to articulate a higher goal, some sort of tangible virtue, then we won’t use drinking as a means of filling the gap. 

Drinking is not our end. When done properly, it is merely a participatory good. Ultimately, I believe we ought to ask ourselves, what are we striving for? 

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