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18th February 2013

Should Manchester create alcohol free halls?

Ella Speakman and William Chambers debate the pros and cons of introducing alcohol free halls

For: William Chambers

If being a massive Uni Lad (or Lass) is your top priority when it comes to choosing first year accommodation, perhaps halls that intentionally place less emphasis on alcohol wouldn’t be for you. However, if you’re like me and you’re a boring sod upon whom middle age has dawned prematurely, you’d rather be smashing the first year of their degree than anything else.

Exactly what a reduced focus on alcohol entails is hard to decipher. If by this they mean banning alcohol from halls, we all know how prohibition went down, yet for many of us averse to the effects of excessive alcohol consumption, avoiding the almost inescapable freshers culture of getting as pissed as possible may have been an inviting opportunity. So if it’s merely the option of an alternative welcome week that doesn’t involve spending every night inebriated in some dingy club busting outrageous dance moves accompanied by slurred shouting and saliva swapping with people you’ve just met, I’m all for it.

The opposition to the notion of setting up designated low alcohol halls is clear. How would it work? Will these new halls get any demand? Why not just choose appropriate accommodation from those currently available? All of which are valid concerns, highlighting that this initiative could be better channeled into offering realistic information to students about what the different residences are really like, along with expanding current provision.

Hence this proposal still draws attention to an important issue: the need for halls to cater for a variety of social interests. Rather than lazily allowing the first week’s events to be almost exclusively set up by self interested club promoters, perhaps the onus is on accommodation to take responsibility for putting on a variety of their own activities, as is done at many other universities. Further, the £40 per student which goes towards the residences association fund could easily be put into weekly social events if such groups were organised effectively by staff. Examples of such things already exist, although sporadic the free comedy nights on Campus are a resounding success and more should be done to build these events.

So, I say why stop with this focus on halls? Contrary to the hairy chested stereotype, I can see a strong desire for sports and other society socials that don’t place excessive focus on drinking. Although many of us may prefer not to leave uni with three years under a loosened belt that provides more chance of securing liver disease than job opportunities, a profound cultural shift away from binging may be a bit optimistic. But I think that ‘low alcohol’ events in halls may be one step in the right direction.

Against: Ella Speakman

Having given up alcohol for several stints over my university life, I am readily willing to admit that the thought of facing the bitter cold to catch the 143, queuing for a blocked toilet and escorting your drunk friend home as she throws up into a plastic bag does lose some of its appeal without the protection of half a bottle of basics vodka. However, creating purposely alcohol free halls is not the answer to the negatives of the university drinking culture.

The best part of my halls experience was being thrown together with 7 people from different backgrounds with different values and opinions who became some of my best friends. This kind of diversity is what makes UoM a great place to spend your academic years. Mixing drinkers with non-drinkers is just another part of this experience. Segregating people never provides an effective solution to social differences and instead only conforms to an ‘either-or’ mentality.

If alcohol-free halls are created as a place to avoid the prevalence of binge drinking, surely that suggests that the other alcohol-fuelled halls are being accepted as places where you’re expected to live on a diet of gin? Separating two groups supports the idea that the only two approaches to alcohol are excess or prohibition, when really we ought to promote moderation. The reality is that everyone consumes alcohol in different ways, and a more positive relationship towards booze comes from integrating people with different perspectives. I can accept that for someone who doesn’t drink, the experience of being in halls could be a difficult one. However, creating more alcohol free events provides a way to meet and socialise with people away from drink without creating a divided community.

As a third year student, I’m by no means tee-total, but when I look back now to how much I drank in first year, I’m shocked. However, the excess of halls was all a part of growing up, and it reflects the initial excitement of freedom. (Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents anyone?) Being around people who drank a lot and people who didn’t taught me about my own relationship to alcohol and what I enjoyed. It gave me the confidence to say no to going out and the knowledge that I didn’t need alcohol to have fun. If we want people to have a healthier relationship to alcohol, it’s important to promote balance. Cheers!

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