Undergrad Reflections: The sex and booze myth

It's undeniable that life changes once you reach a university campus. Suddenly the freedom to do things your own way becomes intoxicating. The stereotype is that an undergrad's first year is spent drinking, lazing around and fornicating with new friends. In my experience, however, this is grossly exaggerated. Perhaps in the university colleges, whose halls I never graced, hedonistic abandon is more common with the close confines of college dorms creating an unstoppable momentum. Most students, however, don't live on campus, and so are distanced from this college culture.

Sure, there are plenty of attempts by established students to woo new arrivals on campus. O-Week (later rebadged as Orientation 200X when there were not enough activities to stretch it out for the whole five days) is awash with pub crawls, where older students don stupid hats and march a group of first years who are desperate to fit in around to nearby pubs, who themselves are desperate for punters, particularly young and thirsty ones.

The only pub crawl I ever went on was the 2001 Commerce Students pub crawl. The crawl started just after lunch, and included nine pubs through Parkville and Carlton. At least that's what the dodgy photocopied map explained. I never made it past the second pub, by which stage I was already tired of seeing every third or so student remonstrate with the bouncer because, at seventeen and lacking a convincing fake ID, they were unwelcome inside. Those of us who did make it inside were squeezed into a corner, ironically unable to make it anywhere close to the bar, making small talk with fellow corner-squeezed first years. Almost without exception, the conversation would go something like this:

UGrad #1: Hey
UGrad #2: Hi
UGrad #1: So, what are you studying?
UGrad #2: Commerce. You?
UGrad #1: Commerce.
Both reflect on the folly of asking such a question on the Commerce Pub Crawl.
UGrad #2: Where'd you go to school?
UGrad #1: Whisky.
UGrad #2: Oh, Whisky. Hey, d'you know Wanker McPhee.
UGrad #1: Nah, never met him.

And so the inanities would continue until both had exhausted their supply and moved onto the next person. It was hardly a good environment to make friends, with the urge to appear hip, cool and alcoholic leading to such excruciating pretentiousness that genuine encounters become impossible.

Although I didn't realise it at the time, the very notion of the pub crawl as a bonding activity is incredibly exclusionary. The seventeen year olds knocked back at the door were the mere tips of the iceberg. There were plenty of students who for a variety of reasons don't bond over alcohol: some for religious reasons, some because of their metabolism, and some because of cultural differences. Those of us left are generally macho, Anglo and wander around campus with a sense of entitlement.

A few years later I thought up an alternative idea for a first year socialising activity that didn't divide the drinkers from the rest, although I never put it into practice. A Park Crawl was my idea, whereby students would bring a lavish selection of picnic goodies with them, and we would move from one park to another picnicking, eating, talking, and if the mood took us, drinking. With vast amounts of lush greenery in the surrounding area, it was an idea with plenty of potential. Perhaps some other first year sick of being made to feel like a loser because they don't drink will make it happen.

As my first year progressed, I kept getting the impression that I was missing out on something. The drinking/lazing/fornicating trifecta was hardly an accurate description of my university experience. Whilst there were some who did indulge in these things with reckless abandon, I think I was probably in the majority. My steps toward socialisation were far more tentative, trying to find a handful of people with common interests rather than a vast network of drinking buddies. I was in the luxurious position of knowing plenty of people before I even started, a product of coming off the private school production line. At first, these became my network of friends, and it was only later that I sought to move beyond my social comfort zone.

Like many of my non-gregarious colleagues, the student union's Clubs and Societies were a Godsend vast nothingness-send. Initially I wasn't very discriminating in whom I signed up with. Wandering around the tables during Orientation 2001, I signed up to the club of just about anyone who smiled in my direction. I was a paid up member of the Amnesty International Club, the Melbourne University Debaters Society, the Melboure University Baseball Club, the Melbourne Uni Jewish Students Society and the MU Jugglers Club. Clearly I thought I'd have a lot of time on my hands. The club that made the biggest impact on my social circle, however, was the Political Interest Society, a group of political enthusiasts who loved to talk intelligently rather than zealously about topics close to them.

The formal structure of the club gave many students a space to be sociable. Whilst wandering over to join a group of strangers for lunch would be bizarre and unwelcome, the context of a student club gave perfect justification for this very thing. The fact that you knew from the start that you had a common interest with the people you were joining was a bonus.

Even without a romantic partner at the time, I didn't feel particularly phased or desperate to find someone. That was for more confident and narcissistic people. I was happy to hang back a little, observe others, make friends and see what happened from there. Most of us, I suspect, were looking for friendship rather than a cheap root, regardless of the external pressure to boost our credentials.

I suspect that the mythology surrounding the indulgences of uni life are constructed by those who seek to bignote themselves. People of meek and mild habits are unlikely to advertise the fact, whilst those that live flamboyantly love to let the world know. It's a shame that so many students are made to feel inadequate because they don't indulge in the excesses of uni life. Many of us are happy that way.


Anonymous said…
Ari good post.

Unfortunately with the New Ivy League americanised system coming in and standards being revamped I don't think this derivative of general pop cultural mentality at uni is going to change much. Mainly in light of key educational imperatives becoming unimportant. I.e. getting into Law or Med straight from high school. So yeh lets partay down! And so on...

Students will still bolster their social interests over academic/learning anyway. In most cases its a matter of mitigating some of the harsher realities of day to day life.

As someone who has straddled between the two worlds I have to say I enjoy putting in the hard yards to get the grades I need to go on to post grad and so on. Instead of settling into a cubicle and reminicing about that IT pub crawl where I copped a root or two in one night...
Miss Politics said…
Ummm ... actually ... I have had quite a few 'roots' as you put it and way too much beer. Oh and I have a HD average.

You can have it all. Its just learning how to juggle and when to party.
Anonymous said…
Miss Politics: You're a 30 something Wiccan at Uni bragging about your HD average and "roots".

I think you can pardon my coloquialisms. On the other hand I'm not really going to accept your juggling act as an excuse. I'm a guy who went to the same school as Ari. I was possibly the worst student to grace the "lovely" elite private school. Mainly because I never laid a studious hand on my work in Highschool. Now I'm 2% shy of an HD average. I think you for one should understand latent development... True Ari might not have it when it comes to your juggling act. Having read your blog I don't think you quite cut it as an equal to Ari intellectually though. So take the circus act elsehwere...
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