On a campus where you are seemingly never more than 500 feet from a bar, “Drink Wisconsinbly” is printed on t-shirts, shot glasses, sunglasses and more, it can be difficult feeling like you are getting the full college experience as a substance-free student.
Regardless of your reasoning for living an alcohol and other drugs-free lifestyle, odds are you have felt uncomfortable, alienated or potentially at-risk in social settings where alcohol is present.
While the university has attempted to reduce the stigma of not joining your friends at an overpriced bar or grimy frat house every weekend through AlcoholEdu and Badger Step Up! programming, drinking culture is synonymous with having a healthy social life here at UW.
This is wildly misrepresentative of the Badger student body, and can be very harmful for students who may be having a hard time transitioning to life as a student, let alone if the narratives of substance abuse or misuse are present.
Overall, the university needs to be doing more to ensure that substance-free students feel welcome, supported, and like they belong on our beautiful campus.
While the fantastic student organization Live Free offers a safe space for students in recovery and their allies, and specialists like Jennifer Damask at University Health Services are working to recognize patterns in the intersection of identities that suggest disparities in at-risk behavior or outcomes, there are some glaringly obvious gaps that UW needs to address.
First, there needs to be more quality sober-living housing options for students. Pres House Apartments has a “Next Step” program that reduces rent for students in recovery, but there aren’t currently any designated substance-free residence halls or cooperative living houses/communities available on or near campus.
These types of arrangements not only ensure that no substances will be present in one’s home, but also fosters a much-needed support system for students founded in common experience and understanding.
There also needs to be a greater effort from the university to make social events more intentional and inclusive for substance-free students. For example, Live Free put on a sober tailgate this past football season, which was the first of its kind at UW. With sports teams as talented as ours, and a fan base as committed, this should be much more commonplace.
Lastly, there needs to be less of a focus on the tokenization of risky behavior associated with drinking too much, and more of a focus on the other unique and exciting opportunities at this university that does not include using a fake to get into the KK three nights a week.
Madison has a booming art scene, delicious locally-sourced restaurants and a beautiful ecological landscape on both sides of the isthmus that are here for students to indulge in, given that they can remember it the next day.
While I am not suggesting that the university demonize drinking culture, I am suggesting that we, as students, faculty and staff, stop using this iconic beer-and-cheese model for what it means to be a true Sconnie.
Rather, we must shift our social expectations and spaces to be more conducive to a substance-free lifestyle, which will be far more accomodating and comfortable for both students in recovery, and those who simply choose not to drink, alike.
Sam Jones is a sophomore studying journalism, with certificates in environmental studies and developmental economics. What do you think about inclusivity on campus in regard to party culture? Send all of your thoughts and comments to email@example.com.