A Fresh Take on Freshers: Has It Had Its Time?

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Fresher’s week inevitably brings with it excessive alcohol consumption and bad decisions. Is it time to reconsider how we spend our first week at University?

Freshers can be a particularly contentious subject. For many it’s a week that stands out as one of their best at University; for others, though, it’s a week they would rather forget. Of course, your first week at University is always going to be a daunting one. I would argue, however, that it is an experience made all the more intimidating by the unrelenting pressure to partake in numerous drinking games and nights out all while trying to navigate a significant life change, an entirely new city and a completely new group of people. So, is it finally time to do away with a fresher’s week filled with wasted hungover mornings and post-night out regrets?

Let’s preface this debate by stating that there is absolutely nothing wrong with drinking, going out, or anything of the sort. What I would suggest, however, is that drinking in excess during a time of already heightened stress can – and does – have negative consequences. Firstly, it is understandable that some freshers rely on a bit of booze to loosen themselves up. However, what can start as a seemingly harmless coping mechanism can make settling into University far more difficult. Getting blackout drunk is often seen as inevitable at least once during your first week. What many freshers don’t expect, however, is the pangs for home that can hit when you’ve got your head over a toilet bowl the morning after. It is essential not to forget that alcohol is a depressant, and while you may feel buzzed in a crowd of people, if you’re already feeling a bit uneasy, sad or homesick, alcohol can make that feel worse.

Secondly, the heavy drinking culture of fresher’s week tends to make freshers who don’t drink for medical, religious or personal reasons feel more than a little anxious. While it is exceedingly rare to be ‘picked on’ for choosing not to drink, choosing not to drink often indirectly isolates a fresher from their peers. It is rarely an active choice to exclude a tee-total fresher from social activities, but when the majority of fresher’s events centre around drinking and going out, it tends to happen involuntarily. Even if you don’t drink, there is the option of going to pre-drinks alcohol-free or even going to the club sober, but this does not necessarily prevent isolation either. As the sober one, you’re essentially relegated to the role of caretaker, holding back people’s hair and acting as a mediator to any housemate spats or lover’s quarrels. This role is okay for a night or two, but after a while, it may get a little tiring. Not to mention the fact that you have to resign yourself to the fact that every new person you meet will have something to say about your decision not to drink. Which, however well-intentioned, often gets a little tiring too.

So, what is the solution to a fresher’s culture that almost mandates excessive drinking, with seemingly negative consequences for both those who choose to drink and those who don’t? It’s probably far easier said than done, but perhaps it’s time for a complete do-over of freshers, to create a culture and environment in which every fresher is genuinely able to choose how they want to spend their first week, without added pressure, anxiety or stress. Very few students’ university experiences consist of constant drinking and clubbing, so shouldn’t fresher’s week reflect this?

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