"No student really considers drinking a crime"

This article forms part of this week’s C+ investigation.

In Michaelmas term, I was fined a small amount of money by my college for a drink related incident. I vaguely understood my college’s point of view, even if I didn’t agree with it. The sum of money was reasonable, even if I couldn’t afford it. I coughed up the money, even if not quite on time. Fine (quite literally). What annoyed me, however, was the way in which I was treated.

There is something decidedly demeaning about standing outside the office door of a middle-aged man with the epithet ‘Dean’, alongside a few other 19 to 21 year olds.

With each of us dressed in a bizarre mis-matched outfit reflective of our respective essay-crises – for me dungarees – and formal gown, sheepishly waiting to be called inside in order to let the dean, the human embodiment of the abstract ‘rules’ which govern our day-to-day lives, give us a good telling-off for a crime that no student really considers a crime.

I was reminded of the time when, as a five-year-old, I’d been taken to the office of my primary school’s draconian headmaster to be berated for doing poorly in a spelling test. Even as a five-year-old, I had felt the same sense of acute injustice (what, really, is the difference between ‘wee’ and ‘we’ – they sound the same) that I felt as a nineteen-year-old.

Had nothing changed in fourteen years? Was I really the same repulsively irresponsible shit at nineteen as I’d been at five? I didn’t think so. I could vote, I hadn’t added a superfluous ‘e’ to the first-person plural for at least ten years, and as far as I was concerned I drank entirely responsibly.
The truth is, we’d been outrageous enough to hold a party; even more outrageously, we’d invited some freshers.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – this was some hideous, Black Cygnets-style invite whereby we’d only invited the most attractive freshers, or forced them to play ridiculous drinking games, or simply tied them down and waterboarded them with vodka. That’s not quite what happened.
You see, every fresher in college was invited to a party that night. Those who wanted to come came. Those who did not didn’t. Those who wanted to consume alcohol consumed alcohol. Those who did not were supplied with juice and coca-cola (admittedly, the latter could well have wreaked havoc with their teeth – college, I apologise for ever having doubted you).

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These were subject welcome drinks. They have been held in my college for time immemorial and never before been objectionable. On the night my subject group and I held our drinks, at least half a dozen other welcome drinks events were taking place. And yet we were the only group to be fined that night, the reason being that this chap, ‘Dean’, had decided to pop up and investigate our staircase first.

If we’d been one flight along, or even a few minutes tardier in our alcohol consumption, we would not have been punished. The fact is, we were used as scapegoats – as a warning to others. It made me feel like I was in a boarding school. It made me feel like a five year old again.

So college, if you decide to fine a group of consenting adults for consuming alcohol in future, oblige me in two things: firstly, ensure that they’re actually consuming alcohol, rather than the unfortunate-tasting bile known as Tesco own-brand lager. (Reports that it is simply horse urine are exaggerated, but only just.)

Secondly, don’t be so bloody judgmental. Many, many teenagers drink alcohol, and doing so at university should not be met with any kind of sanction. The majority of students do it, and the majority of students are involved in the sort of ‘party’ I was fined for on a regular basis.