DUB Panel: Utrecht University, make the UIT alcohol-free(er)!

Photo: DUB / Maarten Hartman

Starting on September 1, it’s no longer allowed to drink alcohol in the buildings of Utrecht University before 5 PM. Students and employees wanting to raise a glass before that time, will have to settle for non-alcoholic alternatives. During the Utrecht Introduction Week that started this week, drinks are served from 2 PM onward, with a delayed start of 4 PM only on the first day.

Does that mean drinking lots of alcohol is behaviour that’s ingrained in our prospective freshmen at the start of their college days? And should Utrecht University, as UIT sponsor, call for an alcohol-free programme before 5 PM, in alignment with its new policy? Especially since 40 percent are younger than eighteen, or only turned eighteen in 2019. Or would that be patronising, and are students old and wise enough to be responsible for their own alcohol consumption?

The DUB panel ponders this statement: Utrecht University, as one of the sponsors of the UIT week, should call for an alcohol-free programme of the UIT week each day until 5 PM.

José Kamal, student of Psychology:
“Yes, because alcohol is basically a drug. It’s not bad if someone wants to use it, but it is bad when it’s more or less forced on you through group pressure.”

Casper Hulshof, lecturer-researcher at the department of Educational Sciences:
“No. Enforce your own regulations within your university buildings, but leave the rules outside of them as they were. If you ban the UIT organisation from serving alcohol before 5 PM, students will simply walk into a supermarket.”

Leonie Schiphorst, student of Educational Sciences and member of the UIT committee of her student association. She was also a crew member of the UIT last year.
“Yes. I think we should denormalise alcohol use among students. Even before you start at university, you know alcohol is a big part of student life, and is seen as a condition for fun. I think we should see alcohol like we view champagne: something you drink at special occasions. An introduction time that doesn’t serve alcohol until 5 PM tells prospective students that it’s not conventional to drink alcohol during the day, every day. Education and alcohol don’t mesh well, in my opinion.”

“But I doubt whether it helps enough to just delay opening the bar by a few hours. I don’t think so, and I do think that there’ll still be a lot of alcohol consumption after 5 PM. And that’s mostly an issue for 18-year-olds who are only just old enough to drink, don’t know their limits, and give into group pressure. At the same time, I don’t think it’s feasible to make the UIT fully alcohol-free. As alcohol is seen as a condition for fun, I think an introduction week without alcohol wouldn’t draw nearly as many students. But I do think there’s a lot left to do in terms of non-alcoholic alternatives for the people younger than 18. They’re currently not welcome at many parties organised by organisations. That tells people it’s truly all about alcohol.”

Mies van Steenbergen, research analyst at Pharmaceutical Sciences:
“No. Why would we prohibit young people from doing all the things we had fun doing when we were kids ourselves? We ended up okay despite all the ‘bad things’, didn’t we? How is it possible that people who didn’t do the right thing themselves, suddenly know how the current generation of students should be doing things? Stop this endless patronising! We’re all responsible for our own wellbeing after all.”

Annemieke Hoogenboom, lecturer-researcher antique fine arts and member of the University Council:
“Yes, I’m in favour of clarity. If there’s a rule that states alcohol isn’t served until after 5 PM within buildings of Utrecht University, then the same should apply to the UIT days. But as this rule doesn’t take effect until September 1, it should only apply to the UIT starting next year. That would also allow for time to make agreements with the organisation.”

Floris van den Berg, Assistant Professor of Philosophy of Science and Environment:
“Yes. As an educational knowledge institute, universities should lead by example. That means the UU shouldn’t serve or reimburse alcohol, including things like giving a bottle of wine as a present. Give a gift card for books instead. The misery caused by alcohol (vandalism, violence, nuisance, traffic incidents) can’t be justified by saying alcohol is fun. It’s not good for people’s health either, and it doesn’t help your studies at all.”

“For that reason, I feel like no alcohol should be served during the UIT week. And no Coca Cola or other sodas either. If it were up to me, they’d serve water, tea, coffee, and perhaps a few organic juices during the introduction week. The days when studying and alcohol were inextricably linked, have passed. You can toast just as well with a glass of water. And if it isn’t any fun without alcohol, you should start to wonder whether it’s fun in the first place.”

“But if the UU is seriously going to work on vitality with its anti-smoking policy and anti-alcohol policy, it could and should take a few more steps. For instance, in the consumption of animal products like dairy and meat. De Uithof as a car-free, smoke-free, alcohol-free, vegan, bike-friendly, pedestrian-friendly green oasis where women can get to the top, sounds like a utopia right now. But there will be a turning point.”

Melissa Alberts, student of Psychology:
“Yes, don’t serve alcohol until after 5 PM during the UIT. Show students things can be fun without alcohol as well. Alcohol does not equal fun. I enjoy a glass of rosé sometimes, but it’s just as fun without alcohol. I think the university could definitely contribute by implementing this policy.”

“Of course, I do wonder how far the university should take imposing rules on students and employees. You can encourage certain behaviour, but should a university really decide what people can or cannot do? After all, students should also learn to make their own (healthy) choices. Still, I do feel like it’s a shared responsibility, and therefore, the university should establish the framework conditions.”

The policy, which states that in buildings belonging to Utrecht University, it will no longer be allowed to serve alcohol before 5 PM, theoretically also applies to the Utrecht Introduction Week from September 1 on. However, it doesn’t have any consequences for the introduction week, as the majority of the programme’s activities don’t take place in UU buildings or on UU property anyway. The activities that do take place on UU property, such as the innovation festival, the association parade, and the sports market, were already alcohol-free.