Frosh Freedom FreakoutMarch 4th, 2009 at 22:24
Drinking (and to a lesser extent drug use) to excess is a legendary, mythologized aspect of college life. As the Whiffenpoofs song says, “Let us drink a toast to all we love the best”. I had my own encounter with this “self-hazing” cultural tradition when I went off to my first year of college after graduating from high school in 1972.
During my senior year of high school, I followed the conventional programmed path, applied and was accepted to two colleges – the University of Michigan in my hometown of Ann Arbor and Western Michigan University, 100 miles west in Kalamazoo. Since I was interested in theater at the time (see “JLO”) I decided to go to Western, because I heard that they had a better theater department. Since my mom was a single parent with a limited income (basically child support paid by my dad), I managed to get a financial need grant and a little bit of a scholarship as well, which paid for a large part of the cost.
Like most fresh-persons at Western, I lived in a dorm. Mine was actually a pretty nice arrangement. It was coed alternating floors, my fifth floor was men, the fourth floor was women, third men and so on. The cafeteria was open 7am to 6pm, had a wide range of food and you could go and eat as much as you wanted as often as you wanted. Such a deal!
We had a fairly social dorm floor, giving me the opportunity to get to know and interact with most everyone else on my floor. Most of my fellow “floor mates” were, like me, living away from home for the first time. Unlike me, few of them had experienced much liberty during their years living at home, and dorm life was like a jail break from controlling parents and their repressive school and home life.
Since the drinking age was 18 at the time, and marijuana was technically illegal but ubiquitous as well, my floor was awash with alcohol (mostly beer and cheap wine like Boones Farm) and weed. I don’t recall anyone on my floor that did not drink and drink to excess at times, including myself. As to my own excess, I learned my lesson quickly after waking up a couple mornings throwing up, being generally incapacitated for most of the next day and sweating what smelled like stale beer. But I continued to drink and get high, while learning to moderate.
In one notable episode, the guy in the room next store invited me over to witness him drinking an entire twelve-pack of beer in an hour. It was just me and him in the room; he sat facing me sitting in his uncomfortable wooden dorm desk chair, as if he was performing some Spartan oral examination. He drank the beers methodically, with much discipline of focus, talking about his process as he went, a veritable guru of alcoholic excess. Why did he do it, and why did he have me there as a witness? Maybe in future conversations with his buddies he could brag about his feat and reply with, “Ask Cooper” when someone would challenge his voracity.
Even though I had my moments of excess, I for the most part was used to running my own life, modulating my liberty to keep my life in some form of balance. But many of my floor mates became total self-destructive libertines, collectively celebrating excess, routinely drinking every day after class and/or spending half their time high on marijuana or hashish (including when attending classes). Their tongues loosened by our recreational intoxicants, they told me stories of controlling parents and high school pranks, some punished and others gotten away with.
Not surprisingly, a significant number of my floor mates had dropped out by the end of the first semester, presumably because they chose to get caught up in this self-destructive life style. They did not have a developed enough sense of self-control, to reconcile this sudden total freedom with effectively attending class, studying, and successfully taking tests and writing papers.
For many of them, their liberation from the strictures of home and high school and their choice to celebrate excess and self-destruction, was somehow a much more compelling learning path for them than English, math, science, social studies, theater, or whatever.
For me it was a scary and sobering experience, that there was so much pent up anxiety, self-destructiveness and need for self-medication out there. Many of these young adults were going to be the professionals and business people of my generation. Rather than embrace the true positive evolutionary environment of true liberty, many of them would survive by eventually again repressing their anxieties and again, I fear, trying to externally control their children in turn.