Students – even Cambridge students – drink. A new program implemented by St. John’s College to address the issue of drinking has created an immense amount of negative backlash.
The public is angry. The media seems angry. Even the folks in India are angry. The Daily Mail, Cambridge-news, The Telegraph, all have written articles (all using the same single Johnian student quote)… and that’s just to name a few.
So what’s the big deal, this scandalous program that has created such a furor? The program is simple: St. John’s College will, when Student Bob arrives home terribly drunk, arrange to have Student Sally sit with Bob. Sally, having been specially trained to take care of drunken occasions like Bob, will be able to handle the situation responsibly. She’ll stay with Bob all night. In the morning, Bob pays the college 100 quid. The college pays Sally 100 quid. All is well.
Only it’s not.
The public’s angry.
Look at the terms used by the media: Babysit. Partygoers. Staggering home. Riotous party. Drunken. Stripping. Vomiting.
Look at the comments: “Now that’s intelligence.” “It’s things like this that should make you be proud to be at John’s.” “I thought you had to be intelligent to study at Cambridge!” “What a silly scheme!” “Perhaps the privileged young people who attend St. John’s College should be mature enough to take care of their own responsibility!”
Look at the backlash! Such backlash.
The source of anger seems to be rooted in three things: First, the fact that these are Cambridge students; second, that the University is paying Student Sally/Helper to watch over Drunken Tom; and third, that St. John’s College has implemented a formal program.
Let’s address each in turn.
That these are Cambridge students: Cambridge students should be smarter. They should be more intellectual. They are the next-generation leaders, the glorious up-and-comers, the politicians of tomorrow and today. They are discovering new genes and saving the world bit by bit by bit.
Such students shouldn’t drink.
If they drink, they shouldn’t do it in hall. If they drink, they shouldn’t get drunk.
While I agree that Cambridge students should be held to a higher standard, such extensive scrutiny and constant, seemingly prepackaged, readily angry judgement is a bit much. When one thinks of the amazing things Cambridge students have done, it’s easy to forget that they’re just… well… kids. They start young: 17, 18-years-old. They get a bit older, but the growing process requires mistakes and maturation, efforts and foolish nights. Many of these students are away from home for the first time. Some have never been drunk before.
Is it intelligent to get so drunk that one needs Student Sally to watch over? No. But is it human? Absolutely. And Cambridge students, at the end of the day, are still human – searching, learning, growing.
We can’t fault them for that.
That the University is paying for Student Helpers: This angry point shouldn’t even be a point at all. The University isn’t paying. Drunken Tom/Bob/Becca is paying… and paying quite a lot.
St. John’s College has implemented a formal program: The statement is correct, but the anger surrounding it doesn’t make sense. John’s HAS implemented a formal strategy for handling those incredibly drunk, exceptionally rare wandering home lost souls.
This doesn’t mean John’s condones drunken behavior.
By acknowledging there’s a problem, John’s is daring to face what truly is a genuine issue, both in the US and the UK: binge drinking. The College is recognizing that students, more often than not, drink far more than they should. Rather than turning a blind eye, John’s has decided to do what it can to help those who may need help. Out of sight does not mean out of mind. Unfortunately, when it comes to the issue of student drinking, many universities seem to take this approach.
At the end of the day, St. John’s students are not any boozier than anyone else. As someone who has studied abroad and in England, as someone who has friends in sports teams and art societies, graduates and undergraduates, at John’s and at Oxford, I can say this with absolute certainty. Drinking is not a Johnian issue – nor is it a Cambridge issue. It’s something that happens far and wide.
The media and public should consider this if they want to take an active approach to solving the problem… rather than throwing stones at a darn good idea.