The Queen’s community should take a look at the impact of excessive drinking on student health and safety.
According to the 2013 National College Health Assessment survey, Queen’s students consume significantly more alcohol than the average Canadian student. Of Queen’s students who consume alcohol, 57 per cent reported binge drinking (five or more drinks) in the two weeks leading up to the survey — much higher than the national average of 36 per cent.
1.9 per cent of students reported engaging in sex without either their or someone else’s consent after drinking; 23.9 per cent reported physically injuring themselves and 2.7 per cent reported considering suicide. The 2010 deaths of two Queen’s students were found to be alcohol-related.
A public discomfort surrounds conversations on excessive alcohol consumption — often because comments can come across as moralizing.
But the issue facing students isn’t ethical — it’s one of health and safety.
The Queen’s community has done a good job in promoting mental health education. Conversations around excessive drinking, though, have been neglected.
It’s easier to talk about mental health, in a sense, because there’s nothing to blame but the illness itself. That’s not the case with alcohol.
In a community where 91.8 per cent of students consume alcohol and 34 per cent have reported having “felt so depressed it was difficult to function”, we can’t talk about one without addressing the other.
While the numbers for binge drinking are high, they aren’t necessarily surprising for Queen’s.
Alcohol — and the glorification of excessive drinking — is entrenched in many of Queen’s traditions, such as frosh week and Homecoming.
Queen’s emphasizes being a part of a community. But while alcohol can be a useful social tool for starting friendships and networking, the current culture at Queen’s often pressures students to turn those one or two beers into a consistent binge.
A student-led and University-supported initiative needs to take place — one that not only educates students on how to drink responsibly, but that pressuring others to drink beyond their desires or capacity can be harmful.
This can’t be a one-time campaign or an overloaded one-hour session during Orientation Week. It should be a sustained conversation that continues throughout the year for all students.
Student governments and societies should be at the forefront of this, because they have a much better sense of what they and their peers are experiencing.
The administration also has a part to play.
PrincipalWoolf has publicly expressed his disappointment in the partying habits of Queen’s students during events such as Homecoming. But the University can’t distance itself from its students and demonize their behaviour when convenient.
Instead, they should support and invest in the wellbeing and safety of their students, and further promote health services that students can turn to.
Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of students to continue this conversation around excessive drinking — no matter how difficult or awkward it is.
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