Although many people think that students here are pretentious and project the attitude that they are superior to students at other schools, Chicago undergraduates use a traditional outlet for relaxing: drinking.
"They need the chance to feel like any other college student, if only for a few nights a week. Drinking and partying gives students the chance," said Eric Vazquez, a first-year in the College.
Vazquez's assessment of drinking on campus comes at the tail end of the National College Alcohol Awareness Week, which included funding from the U.S. Department of Education. It gave the University a grant this year to fund alcohol awareness and prevention programs as part of the "Models Program" for national colleges. Only two other colleges, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, and Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI, received this grant.
The new federal grant and the Student Care Center (SCC) campaign bring into question the relationship between students and drinking on a campus not known for its high level of alcohol consumption.
Some students already find that there are plenty of opportunities to have fun without drinking.
The University will use the federal grant for the "Noctis Sero" project, which focuses on educating students on alcohol abuse and providing alcohol-free activities.
The SCC also funded a Game Night on Saturday at Uncle Joe's Coffee Shop, which included free food, air hockey and Dance Dance Revolution. "Noctis Sero" also provided students with "Mocktails," non-alcoholic drinks, at Blues and Ribs on October 15, and will sponsor RSO-organized social programs that are alcohol-free.
"There are definitely alternatives," said first-year in the College Julia Vakhrusheba. "People can go out on a night on the town, to movies, shopping, jazz shows, and Latin clubs to dance. I was afraid that either you go out and drink or stay in your room. It's not the caseafter all, you live in a city."
Others were skeptical that the administration could curtail alcohol use on campus. "I don't see any measures they could put in that would prevent it," explained Marcelo Pertani, a fourth-year in the College.
The attention focused on alcohol prevention could lead students to wonder if drinking is a problem on campus, or if the SCC is just trying to reinforce good habits among students. According to Kelley Carameli, Health Education Specialist at the SCC, the College's alcohol consumption rate is somewhat below the national average. Citing the national private school alcohol/drug data from 1999-2001, she said that Chicago students are "making better decisions about their alcohol use and tend to be using at slightly lower rates. U of C students also experience less negative side effects from their low to moderate substance use, and actively employ safer-drinking strategies such as avoiding drinking games, eating before or during alcohol use, stopping at a personal limit, and developing a plan for a safe ride home," she explained.
Students in the College seem to have a lower binge drinking rate than at other universities, though it is impossible to determine conclusively since different schools use different measures. According to the 2001 Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, 44.4 percent of college students binge drink. The study classifies binge drinking as ingesting at least five alcoholic drinks in a sitting for men and four for women. The SCC reports that 81 percent of Chicago students drink in moderation, though it defines moderation slightly differentlyas 0-4 drinks in a sitting.
Because the Harvard study considers binge drinking for a female to be four servings, while Chicago considers it five; this acounts for some of the discrepancy between Chicago's and Harvard's rates.
Although binge drinking is less prevalent here than at many other schools, the number of Chicago students who do not drink at all20 percent, according to the SCCis on par with the national average19 percentaccording to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
Some students abstaining from alcohol cite the intense academic environment as their reason for choosing not to drink. "I'm clueless about the drinking situation because I personally don't drink and none of my friends are into the drinking culture," said Eliot Kwok, a third-year in the College. "So many people study 24/7 so they don't need or have time to do anything fun. I can squeeze the time out for maybe a movie with friends over the weekend, but that doesn't happen too often, unfortunately."
Though members of the University community say they are too busy to drink, Hyde Parkers have a different account. When asked how many students come in to Kimbark Liquors and Wines to buy alcohol, Robert Skipwith, the manager, chuckled and said, "On Fridays, it looks like all of them come in. I guess they have a lot of parties," he said.