Commentary, Opinion

Frosh sends troubling messages about drinking culture

Following a significant backlash in past years regarding the toxic nature of many Canadian Frosh weeks, McGill has made attempts to improve the experiences of incoming students. Frosh coordinators across faculties have, in consultation with staff and the administration, implemented new policies that seem to have improved student well-being and safety during Frosh. In recent years, the university has emphasized consent education and renewed its commitment to inclusivity through programs like Access Allies, where leaders receive additional training sessions to welcome first years. While many aspects of the week have changed, McGill remains one of the few Canadian universities to continue to promote the consumption of alcohol during Frosh. In continuing to legitimize wet Frosh weeks, McGill introduces students to an inextricable link between intense alcohol consumption and social events during students’ undergraduate tenures.

Faculty Frosh weeks aim to plan safe and inclusive orientations, including extensive Frosh leader training that involves discussions with the Milton-Parc Citizens’ Committee and the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM). While training educates leaders and prepares them to take care of groups of 20 to 30 freshmen, there remains a consistent disconnect between knowledge and practice of safe alcohol consumption habits.

For many, alcohol serves as a social stimulant that helps them mingle and socialize. For others, wet Frosh weeks create an environment that produces intense social pressure to overconsume, often to the point of blacking out. While Frosh events never require alcohol consumption, pre-games and bar crawls often include chanting, drinking games, and chugging contests that glorify it. From day one, students are taught that drinking alcohol at events is correlated with social success.

Although Frosh Week is not an introduction to drinking for all incoming students, in the absence of parents and guardians, it presents an opportunity to escalate previous drinking habits. With newfound freedom, first years have the opportunity to let loose in a seemingly safe environment. The drinking culture at McGill tends to celebrate students who can consume the most, the fastest. At pre-games, Froshies praise each other for pushing their limits by challenging the number of drinks they can consume before blacking out. The next day, they shrug off a lack of memories because their peers share similar experiences.

While Frosh serves as an introduction to McGill’s work-hard-play-hard attitude, the cultural pressure does not end there. McGill offers countless opportunities for students to drink and socialize, including student-run bars and drinking events like Hype Week and Winter Carnival that take place throughout the semester. Early on, attitudes towards drinking prompt students to use the ability to bounce back from dangerous alcohol binges as criteria for success. 

Frosh remains a formative experience for many, but for it to maintain students’ health, Frosh must put an end to the normalization of binge drinking. Faculty Frosh weeks can take notes from their alternative counterparts, such as Rad Frosh, which emphasizes safety and inclusion through workshops, walking tours, and accessible dance parties. It is time for students and the administration to acknowledge the damaging impacts of McGill’s work-hard-play-hard culture and the need to tackle it at the macro-level. The habits that students acquire today have the potential to set the tone for future drinking practices and health outcomes.

Future Frosh planning must address attitudes toward drinking at McGill as a whole and how the school can shift toward a culture of moderation. Instead of emboldening students to adopt dangerous consumption habits, Frosh organizers should teach incoming students how to incorporate alcohol in a safe manner by supporting non-drinkers at wet events and offering additional dry events. Students should be taught to feel comfortable speaking candidly about how alcohol affects them and understand that their ability to recover from a blackout or the speed of their chug time is not a measure of their worth.

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  1. An alternate perspective for the author: you give Frosh far too much credit at fostering a culture of binge drinking. Frosh is not “normalizing” binge drinking, but simply accepting the reality that the vast majority of university freshmen binge drink in North America. Look at what happens in the US or Ontario – kids still binge drink, just outside their “official” orientation events. Given this reality, wouldn’t you prefer this binge drinking take place in a safe McGill environment where hundreds of coordinators and volunteers prevent bad outcomes through the use of harm reduction teams, M-SERT first aid, the threat of consequences for bad behaviour (bracelet cutting all the way up to referring university administration to take disciplinary measures), and prohibiting strangers with malicious intent from entering McGill-only venues?

    Faculty Frosh has made giant strides in recent years to ensure non-drinkers can feel comfortable and there are plenty of alternative Frosh options as well, but what you are proposing is ultimately making Frosh dry. What will happen under this scenario? Attendance plummets as students leave the “McGill context” to party elsewhere (because these are 18 year olds – just look at what happens in Ontario), where a lot worse can happen with a lot graver consequences.

  2. Considering McGill’s hard core stance on hazing, the encouragement of alcohol consumption during Frosh week is a mixed message indeed.

  3. I agree, thank you for the message!

  4. I believe this author of this piece is very misguided and has not seen what froshies truly experience. The amount of emphasis and effort that coordinators and leaders put into making rallies (or pre-games as the author puts it) as welcoming to drinkers and non-drinkers alike is astounding. Just this past year, every rally I went to had opaque cups with juice or water available, and every other group ‘drinking game’ was played solely with water. I have countless examples of what I’ve seen at Frosh showing how impressive it has come in the drinking inclusivity department, and so I would suggest that the author get a more in-depth look at what Frosh has really become in the past few years.

    As a final note, I would like to second the comments made above by Sean.

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