Freshers' week is here again. Students up and down the country will be moving out of the parental home, ordering doubles at the bar and attempting to make some new friends at university.
Freshers' week has always been centred around the idea of partying, and every year, it's followed by a panic about binge drinking. Students are photographed stumbling out of nightclubs, vomiting in taxis and fighting in the street. But this year, students' unions have decided a way to combat the onslaught of drunk freshers: encourage students to lay off the booze.
UCLU, the students' union at University College London, released a how-to guide on drinking responsibly. 'There's nothing wrong with waiting until you're out to have your first alcoholic drink – mocktails are a great way to start the night,' it advises students. But, everyone knows that student cocktails are usually comprised of Tesco's cheapest carton juice and a bottle of lime cordial. I think most would rather stick to beer.
Similar pressure to lay off the drink is being put on students in Exeter. The University of Exeter is working with the police on an initiative called #RU2Drunk. Though there is no legal limit set for blood alcohol limit, students will be breathalysed, and, if they're a little wobbly, denied entry into local clubs and bars.
Some organisations have taken the route of abstinence even further, encouraging students to stay at home instead of going out. Student Minds, a mental health charity, has called on students to tweet pictures of them being sensible at home as an example to other students: 'Together we can remind every student in the UK that students really do stay in.' A report on drinking in young people, conducted by Demos, the cross-party think tank, has also advised universities 'to raise the profile of teetotalism and promote moderate consumption as a positive choice', to combat excessive drinking during freshers' week.
But why are we panicked about students getting a bit too drunk during the first week at university? In fact, there really isn't anything to worry about, this years' students are from what's been dubbed 'generation abstemious'. Reports show that young people are drinking, smoking and taking drugs far less than their elders. Without the help of universities encouraging students to abstain, many are already making the choice to indulge less.
When did university become so boring? Yes, lots of the initiatives to combat the focus on drinking at freshers' week are designed to make teetotal, religious students feel more included. But this is unnecessary. Students who don't drink aren't squares, they enjoy a night out on the tiles too. When I was a university, my friend would have what she called a 'disco banana' at 3am, around the same time that I was stumbling by the bar sniffing leftover drinks. We both always came home giggling together on the nightbus.
While there is nothing particularly beneficial in puking on your shoes at the end of the night, it is important for students to celebrate this first week of freedom. Many students, like me, will have come to university straight from school and their parents' home. Freshers' week is your chance to test out what it's like to be a completely independent adult. If that involves drinking yourself sick, so be it.
This panic from students' unions and universities about drinking during freshers' week actually has little to do with alcohol at all. University is now seen as a second parental home – where student union officers are students' friendly big brother, and the university administration their disciplining parents.
Both Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Manchester have sent out 'visible guardians' to act as professional witnesses to drunken students in order to 'gather evidence' and report back antisocial behaviour to the university administration. That's right, Manchester universities are literally spying on their students. Thought it was bad enough when your mother looked through your phone after a big night out? Welcome to university, where bodyguards photograph you throwing up behind the bins.
Drinking is an adult activity. By the time kids are 18, they become legally recognised as adults and the state deems them old enough to handle alcohol independently. Why shouldn't universities trust students to do the same? Initiatives to stop students getting drunk are symptomatic of a wider trend in universities to mollycoddle and baby students. Whether it's Safe Spaces on campus to protect students from mean words, consent classes designed to teach students how to have relationships, or indeed initiatives to stop students drinking – these all point to the fact that students aren't being treated like independent adults.
Students must demand that nosy students' union officers loosen up and leave them alone. If students feel uncomfortable about the level of drinking in their halls or among their social group, it's up to them to sort it out for themselves. The purpose of university is to teach kids knowledge, not act as a parent for every difficulty in students' personal lives. So, freshers, defy this nonsense and raise a glass (even if it's full of water) to being free, independent adults.