Emily Nichols ’22
It’s a typical Saturday night and I’m sitting alone in my room. Most everyone on my floor left to party hours ago. How I long for a fun and lively venue to hang out with others like me that have chosen a substance-free lifestyle. However, I’ve had great difficulty finding others that abstain. Without regularly organized activities on campus or the availability of substance-free housing options, I’ve struggled to find like-minded individuals. According to a published statistic, 18% of students at Holy Cross identify as non-drinkers, which is even more surprising since the majority of students are below 21 years old. While this does not suggest 82% drink in excess, it does emphasize the extent of the drinking culture at Holy Cross. Weekends are the worst for me. I find myself awakened to the noise of doors slamming and yelling in the hall. I make my way to the bathroom and the community trash bin is full of beer cans. I see vomit in a stall. Drunk guys wander in and out of the bathroom. I question my safety at times and worry about my privacy. This weekend routine makes dorm life miserable, it impacts my sleep, my sanity, and ultimately my quality of life. I recognize that I can only control myself, but this scenario brings me back to Gateways Summer Orientation. We were asked to journal in our notebooks, responding to questions such as Who am I? And Who am I becoming?
While I’m proud of my choice to embrace a substance-free lifestyle, I’m really tired of living in the shadows of a party culture. It’s a constant battle to survive the weekends, and then face judgement from others that have not really made an effort to know me. Many assume I’m the quiet, serious type that doesn’t want to have “fun.” Nothing could be further from the truth! I love to have a good laugh, I enjoy connecting with others over coffee, and I crave conversationabout solving current issues in our world. Sadly, this is outside the social norm at Holy Cross. Instead, I find that I’m invisible unless I participate in the party culture. However, I refuse to compromise my beliefs. I feel it’s time for those dedicated to being substance-free to emerge from the shadows, unite, and find new, creative ways to continue living out our values. It would be nice to build a community for mutual support, respect, and having fun- without alcohol.
I fear that this letter may be too late to change the minds of those that are transferring from Holy Cross because they have not felt welcome. I’m disappointed that the College hasn’t taken more action to invest in activities and programs that support healthy substance-free choices. If they are working on this, it’s too slow coming. In my opinion, this is a crisis. Other leading colleges, such as the University of Vermont and New York University, recognize that drinking has become a huge problem. They have established wellness programs that aim to “create an environment to incentivize college students to build healthy brains and healthy bodies.” Specifically, they established substance-free dorms to encourage wellness. The University of Vermont is the premier institution in promoting students’ well-being. In addition to offering substance-free dorms, they provide a wide range of activities including yoga, meditation, exercise classes, and community building. Measures like these encourage healthy habits and are proven to help with stress. In fact, 40 other colleges are instituting similar programs. Isn’t the goal of a Jesuit education to develop the body, mind, and spirit? Why is Holy Cross tolerating the drinking culture instead of striving to encourage wellness practices that would last a lifetime?
Despite its small student population and lack of Greek life, Holy Cross is slightly above the national average of college students who choose to drink. Binge drinking is common. This has many consequences including health and safety risks. Ultimately, Holy Cross is no different thana large state school. You might be thinking, why don’t you just go to a party and not drink? Well, it’s not that simple. I shouldn’t have to hide the fact that I’m not drinking, yet hold a red Solo cup to feel accepted. I want people to get to know me without the influence of alcohol. I don’t want the pressure to drink by those that don’t know me or care about my well-being. Unfortunately, I’ve personally witnessed several students taken out of my dorm on stretchers this year, presumably for alcohol poisoning. It’s also important to note the direct correlation between drinking and sexual assaults. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse reported that the majority of sexual assaults, about 700,000 per year, are related to drinking. No wonder sexual assault is a real and worrisome issue on campus.
We are each responsible for our behavior and our choices. As a result, we are each writing our own story at Holy Cross. We all want meaningful relationships with an opportunity to discover and develop our passions. We all deserve to find acceptance and support from others. I know that there has to be other students that feel the same way I do about the party culture. Perhaps you’re in hiding like me. I want to first commend you for living out your substance-free values. Moreover, I want you to know that you’re not alone. I’m writing this piece to start a conversation and hopefully spark awareness. I’ve been hesitant about publishing my thoughts, wondering what people will personally think of me. However, I believe it’s important to share my story in the hopes of enacting change.