Alright, I've been meaning to write this one for some time, so I hope I can do it justice. The disclaimer, of course, is that this is just my experience with drinking culture at Olin. I am not around it enough to be an expert, nor can anyone deny that I am an eternal optimist, so I could have a very naive view of things. The hope, of course, is that those wonderful Olin students who read this blog regularly will correct me with their comments.
I am not a drinker. Though I've never been a drinker, it was during my sophomore year of high school that I decided that alcohol was not my thing and that I wouldn't take part in it during high school, college, or beyond. I have my own reasons for this decision, that don't belong on this blog, and those that do drink should not think that I view myself as any better than them. It's just not my thing.
So naturally, coming to college was going to be something...different. Whereas in high school I was able to go to school during the day and escape to my social group of choice or my family at night, a college as small as Olin did not seem like a place where you could escape from much. I was a little bit worried, but trusted myself to make the best of whatever situation I found myself in. Luckily, I arrived in, what I now consider, a best-case scenario.
The official stance of the school of alcohol is "drinking is illegal if you are under 21, so don't" but the unofficial stance is "drink safely and respectfully." Further, Olin is an Honor Code school and, even more significantly, we observe and uphold ours religiously. This means that we are actually very good at being respectful. The general rule of thumb is that parties should have their doors closed and make sure not to disturb their neighbors. In my experience (at least last year in the freshmen-sophomore dorm), this is almost always followed. Save for the first month of school (when people let a little too loose) I never ran into anyone drunk in the halls or lounges, and I probably walked by plenty of parties on plenty of Saturday nights without even knowing it. Trust me, if you want to avoid alcohol, as I did during first and most of second semester, it is super easy and never invasive.
What's more, we're also very safe about what we do here. Though many freshmen groaned about it at the time, and it did seem pretty awkward, every student who comes through Olin takes an alcohol safety course. This course, called TIPPS, teaches you how to be responsible around alcohol and how to look after your friends. It's really very helpful. Of course, such a class could go in one ear and out the other, but it doesn't seem to here. I have great respect for our pseudo-frat here, Man Hall, that hosts the most active and well attended parties. These organizers really know what they're doing. My understanding is that the Man Hall bartenders stay sober so that they can remember who has had how many drinks and can cut them off when appropriate. They also assign chaperones or at least keep a careful eye on newer attendees to ensure that they can handle alcohol responsibly. This is not your normal college party, but a very close, careful community of people looking out for each other and keeping each other from doing stupid things. That's certainly not to say that no one has any fun; on the contrary people have plenty of fun, and are able to do so safely.
Which brings me to my first actual party. A few days after I got elected to E-Board, there was a Man Hall party with most of the past and just elected E-Board in attendance (basically everyone but me). Anthony (our Vice President of Campus Life) calls me up and tells me that the two E-Boards a have a little ceremony, and that he would really like me to come. Well, I'd been meaning to drop by a Man Hall party for some time, just to see what was up, and this gave me the perfect opportunity. I arrived and had a shot of Coca-Cola. I then stayed for the rest of the party and found it to be a very chill environment. People mostly already knew that I didn't drink, and even if they offered me something, I just had to say no once and they were cool. I had such a great, pressure-free time that I dropped by the next one two weeks later. This summer I am also periodically dropping by a regular Friday-night gathering at one of the off-campus apartments a few students are staying it. It's called Beef+Beer, though I mostly just participate in the former. It's pretty awesome.
So the moral of the story? First, I find the drinking culture at Olin to be safe, non-invasive, and pressure-free. It's amazing. Second, college parties can be for drinkers and non-drinkers alike, so don't limit yourself socially. It is nice to interact with all parts of the community.
The two E-Boards being goofy. My shot glass (of water, possibly) is purely for comic effect, of course. Oh, and those dratted ears keep finding their way onto my head. (Taken on Anthony or Angela's camera).
Just because I had nowhere else to put it, this is the two E-Boards going out to Indian food. It was soooooooo good. And no fuzzy ears!! (Taken on Angela's camera).
Thanks, as always, for reading.
-Jeff Moore, Olin College Class of 2010