Sobriety on college campuses is a rarely acknowledged notion. Partying and drinking are perceived or practiced as a norm, but for some Tufts students, alcohol does not play a role in their lifestyle.
According to a spring 2021 survey conducted at Tufts University by the American College Health Association, 17.4% of Tufts students who responded reported to have never consumed alcohol. Another survey of incoming first-years conducted in fall 2022 showed that 26.7% of respondents said they had never consumed alcohol, and an additional 21.3% said they had tried a substance in the past but do not drink currently.
In the United States, drinking alcohol is typically regarded as a core tenet of college life. First-years Scott Gyimesi, Declan Golden and Katie Ryu as well as senior Jacob Brenner shared their perspectives regarding sobriety in college.
“[Everyone] grows up hearing that … drinking is just what you do in college,” Gyimesi said.
Golden shared a similar view, commenting on the social dimensions of drinking culture.
“It’s definitely got a social aspect,” Golden said. “I think a lot of people would say that they need to drink to talk to people [because] they lose their inhibitions and have more fun.”
Ryu agreed and added that alcohol is an agent that enables people to behave in ways that they would not act while sober.
“People just want to have fun, and sometimes maybe people need alcohol to … do things they couldn’t do while being sober,” Ryu said.
Neither Gyimesi nor Golden find sobriety difficult. Golden remarked that alcohol consumption is a particular activity that, at least at Tufts, is not ubiquitous or significant enough to hinder one’s social life.
“I guess there’s just missing out on a certain culture, … and other than that, I don’t really know what is to be missed out upon because I’ve never experienced it on the other end,” said Gyimesi.
However, Ryu added that for her, it is a burden to be one of few sober participants at an event, as she is often assigned the de facto responsibility of taking care of others who are drinking.
“I think the hardest aspect [of sobriety] is that when there’s no one else around you who’s sober, it’s hard to be the only one helping everyone,” Ryu said.
Brenner shared that the most difficult aspect of sobriety was that some students could be less understanding of the choice.
“I will say that my friends and the people that I directly interact with at Tufts are beyond understanding,” Brenner said. “It’s more when you look at people that see, for instance, when the news broke of last year’s inaugural, substance-free living for upperclassmen, there was some backlash on social media from people that didn’t really understand why Tufts was doing this.”
Religion played a significant role in Gyimesi’s decision to remain sober while at Tufts.
“I actually took being a Christian seriously when I was about 15, so my sophomore year in high school,” Gyimesi said. “At that point, a lot of the year got consumed with COVID … and by the time we got back to school, I was a senior, and I was already pretty driven to stay away from [alcohol] at that point.”
Likewise, Ryu cited religion as the driving force for her sobriety.
“My family is Christian so we have morals on the values of … not being drunk or not consuming alcohol until you’re [of legal age],” Ryu said.
Other students, like Golden and Brenner, choose to be sober due to the effects that alcohol can have on the mind and body. Golden initially embraced sobriety because he disliked the loss of control that came along with drinking.
“I also don’t like the idea of getting drunk because it means losing control, and I’d rather not lose control,” he said.
Similarly, Brenner chose sobriety to prioritize mental clarity.
“I personally don’t think I could achieve that [clarity of mind] if I drank or used substances,” he said.
When applying to college, Gyimesi did not hold the perspective that partying was a major component of student life at Tufts. In fact, Gyimesi was surprised to find that drinking was more prevalent at Tufts than he believed it would be.
“I think it’s a little more prominent than I would have imagined, to be honest, because [Tufts] is just not, in general, a party school,” Gyimesi said.
Despite the existence of drinking culture at Tufts, none of the students interviewed reported feeling unwelcome, and they have found the campus to be friendly and supportive.
“Coming to college, I thought it would be students peer pressuring me into drinking, … but after coming to Tufts, [I discovered] it was a more friendly environment,” Ryu said.
As student-athletes, Golden, who plays on the men’s ultimate frisbee team, and Gyimesi, who is on the men’s basketball team, have both found support from their teammates.
“I spend a lot of my party time at the [frisbee] house, and they have, every single time, offered me non-alcoholic options,” Golden said. “In my experience, it hasn’t been negative at all. They’ve [been] very welcoming [and] very respecting of my choice.”
Gyimesi added that basketball keeps him busy both during the week and weekends, which helps him stay sober.
“On the weekends, honestly, I like staying in,” Gyimesi said. “I like just spending time alone … or getting ahead on my schoolwork. I feel like that’s pretty beneficial to do.”
Wilson House is Tufts’ substance-free housing for underclassmen. Brenner lived there during his first year at Tufts and found it to be very enjoyable.
“[It] was a great experience,” Brenner said. “It was a great place for me to meet some of my best friends and to live in a place where alcohol wasn’t the center of attention. That was really valuable for me.”
During his sophomore year, Brenner was part of the student group that initiated a campaign to provide substance-free housing for upperclassmen, which has since become the theme of Carpenter House.
“My friends from Wilson House and I created a theme house application, and we got approval for upperclassmen substance-free living,” Brenner said. “It’s something that I think Tufts needs. I mean, it serves people not just who choose [sobriety]; it’s also helpful for people that are in recovery [from substance abuse].”
Ian Wong is the director of health promotion and prevention at Tufts. Part of his role as a health educator on campus is substance abuse prevention.
Wong expressed his faith that the social scene at Tufts has an inclusive atmosphere that does not set up obstacles for sober students.
“Tufts students are very supportive of students who do not use alcohol or other substances,” Wong wrote in an email to the Daily. “Students in sobriety are not excluded … from social events, campus activities, or friend groups by those who chose to use.”
All incoming Tufts students are required to attend an undergraduate orientation workshop about the physical and social impacts of alcohol. Alcohol education also encompasses support for those who choose not to use, for students that have had negative experiences with alcohol in the past or for those who have a substance use disorder and need some type of treatment.
“At Tufts, we offer all these levels of education,” Wong wrote. “I believe it is effective. Tufts has a strong commitment to support students as they navigate their relationship with substance use.”
To further this goal, the university has decided to hire Laura Michelson, a full-time alcohol and drug specialist.
“[Michelson] started at the end of September and has been taking this semester to understand our current system with an eye on improvement and expansion,” Wong explained. “She encourages students to reach out to her directly to share what is going well and what they would like to see in the future.”
Wong emphasized that there are many attitudes toward alcohol consumption at Tufts and that the environment is conducive for students to form their own experiences.
“There are many students who have a great time in college without using alcohol, and the culture of Tufts supports this,” Wong wrote. “It is important to note that the drinking culture at Tufts is what we all choose to make it, and we encourage everyone to be thoughtful and responsible in their own choices.”