To Prevent Sexual Assault, Look Beyond Drinking Culture

This article broadly discusses sexual assault, rape, mental health, and other potentially triggering topics.

Our country offers alcohol and drug culture widespread attention. Popular media – coming-of-age television shows and movies, Instagram photos, “I’m Shmacked” Youtube videos – valorizes alcohol culture as a performance of socioeconomic privilege.

Alcohol culture represents the quintessential “elite” college experience, in which socio-economically privileged students may participate without apprehension or repercussion.

In turn, research studies and news articles ridicule drinking culture’s toxic and discriminatory nature, suggesting avenues to curb substance use. College administrators produce regulatory policies following reports on increased transport rates and unhealthy social climates.

While the intensity of party culture at the Claremont Colleges pales in comparison to that of larger universities, the Colleges seem to uphold a common myopic parable: drugs and alcohol are the root causes of larger social phenomena. While alcohol culture normalizes social issues, such as predatory hook-up culture, economic exclusivity, and mental health issues, these phenomena exist regardless.

As a Pitzer College student, I can attest to its social and alcohol culture better than that of the other Claremont Colleges. Pitzer requires first-years to participate in alcohol education training, and within weeks, subsequently forwards them a survey to understand the reality of students’ consumption.

In contrast, the institution failed to educate the community regarding students’ mental health, exemplifying how Pitzer promotes student health and safety solely through a framework of binge drinking.

Although this survey is a useful instrument for understanding the first-years’ experiences in social settings, its data does not comprehensively represent Pitzer’s substance culture.

Entering Pitzer, I discovered students latently encouraging others to drink for social capital. Visible alcohol consumption, such as throwing parties, was often a sign of students’ elite socioeconomic status.

My early experiences with Pitzer’s substance culture were not surprising nor difficult to navigate. The presence of alcohol and drugs, however, certainly made social grievances more transparent. For instance, students looking to consume alcohol created exclusive spaces based on class and ability. In addition, male students participating in a sports-alcohol culture more dramatically performed toxic masculinity.

I struggled not with alcohol consumption, but with the already-existing, destructive social dynamics that substances excused. Exclusivity, bigotry, and sexual assault exist within the student body with or without the presence of alcohol.

If administrators were to successfully eradicate drugs and alcohol from Pitzer’s campus, I suspect that bigotry, sexual assault, and mental health issues would remain.

Alcohol does not cause someone to sexually assault another person. By regulating alcohol culture to mitigate sexual assault, college campuses imply causality and perpetuate myths of rape culture.

The current state of mental health on campus further exemplifies the consequences of overemphasizing the relationship between alcohol consumption and other social issues. If students adopt alcohol and drugs to self-medicate, perhaps this indicates the institution’s failure to adequately address student mental health.

Attributing alcohol consumption to other campus concerns such as sexual assault and mental health may seem more convenient; yet, in actuality, it does not adequately support and educate students.

I propose that money, research, and time may better serve the Claremont Colleges when funneled into continuous sexual assault education, mental health services, and efforts to make campus spaces truly accessible and inclusive. The alcohol education, training, and critical analyses are certainly necessary; however, the allocation of funding does not have to address one concern over another. To centralize alcohol culture at the neglect of other matters is to disregard how these injustices intersect to form inhospitable campus cultures.

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