There are persons of a certain age who maintain that ‘if you remember the sixties, you weren’t there’. If you didn’t indulge in a cornucopia of mind-altering substances whilst partying to the outrageous excess of sexual liberation and musical innovation that defined the times, then you were doing something wrong. Some sociologists maintain that the reason for the 1960s holding such significance in the national psyche is less to do with real social and political change and more to do with the sheer number of participants. Were the sixties that important or was it just that all the baby-boomers present gave their youth an undue sense of vitality? I don’t know; I’m not a sociologist. But it is with the same spirit of the baby-boomers that most students idealise their Freshers’ Week. If you can remember your Freshers’ Week, were you really there?
Rather than offering up a Jacobean banquet of illicit substances, today’s Fresher can expect an invite to a seemingly unending supply of booze. And why not? Better to indulge now and learn one’s limits, whilst adult responsibilities remain safely in the not-too-distant future. Drink has lubricated the follies of youth since time immemorial, and with Tennent’s at £2 a pint in the GUU it would be a further folly to pass on such an opportunity. Yet, come Freshers’ Week, plenty will say no to the cheap hooch, opting instead for a soft drink or something softer still. For them, alcohol either had an allure which has now all but gone, or they simply don’t drink and probably never will. Either way, most Freshers, and the fluorescent shepherds hired by our four student bodies to direct the new lambkins, understand and accept the abstemious few.
Though no one is likely to give a student who doesn’t drink a hard time, or socially exclude them, the centrality afforded to alcohol in the first (and for many, subsequent) years of university can make integration more difficult. A drunken student and their new found sober companion may go out to the same venue and spend a night in each other’s company, but their respective experiences will noticeably differ. Of course, the venue itself will make a difference, and there are many places in Glasgow one wouldn’t wish to see in the cold light of sobriety – I speak as one who once paid £8 entry to a certain club (the name rhymes with ‘shampoo’) despite the fact I hadn’t touched a drop. If the experience of this venture is not shared amongst everyone in the group, then the likelihood of it recurring will diminish and a budding friendship is unlikely to flourish. A teetotal student could well feel alienated from the start.
None of the student bodies openly advocate boozing in their promotional material, but the implication is loud and clear. Even the smallest of societies know that the way to lure in the masses is with the promise of cheese and wine (often boxed, usually undrinkable). The solution may be to promote alcohol-free events in the evenings. It is unlikely anyone would object to alcohol free events during Freshers’ Week, but would our student bodies really get behind the idea? One fears that any request to use space in the Unions during Freshers for a relatively small event would be turned down. Yet whilst there is no obligation to drink at any Freshers event, the ethos of such events can often isolate new students who’d rather socialise in more congenial surroundings.
Freshers’ Week isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, even if you would sooner have a cup of tea than a pint of ‘Fun’. It is an initiation ceremony of sorts; a way of being brought into the social fold. Accommodating the lifestyles of a broader range of students would not only make this ceremony more inclusive, it would also show that the University is committed to upholding its seminal reputation for good student experiences. If the 1960s are only remembered with reverence because of the sheer number of people who were there, then Freshers’ Week is sure to be immortalised if the several thousand newbies arriving in Glasgow get the most from their first seven days. If you can remember your Freshers’ Week, you were almost certainly there.