On Drinking at Notre Dame



I doubt that anybody who might look at the title of this piece would think to themselves that it was probably a defense of the drinking that goes on at this school, rather than some sort of anti-drinking tract. And though I think that it is a pretty reasonable assumption, this is odd to me.

Here is why: I have certainly found it to be the case that drinking is hardly something that most are very quick to condemn at this school. Not everyone drinks, to be sure, but a vast number do, ranging from the stereotypical frat bro to the born-and-raised Irish Catholic who loves the school and wishes to participate in storied dorm culture. Rectors—the male ones anyway—either are loath to broach the subject at length, or couch it in gentle terms. As stated before, there are those who abstain from drinking, and not everyone encourages the pastime, but abstinence is viewed as a matter of preference, or perhaps the choice of a merely calmer road over a riskier yet still tenable one.

This is what makes it so weird to me that when one actually brings up the issue, there is a strong feeling of OCS-related discomfort and sometimes even shame (couched in ironic humor or sly self-awareness, frequently referencing oneself as a heavy drinker, or recalling a particularly messy night have simply become fodder for fun discussions at dinner). For such a ubiquitous thing, there sure does seem to be a palpable sense of cognitive dissonance surrounding it. One witnesses the general acceptance of it as the defining college activity while also viewing the acknowledgment of its underground, illicit status. Is it a good thing, or isn’t it? Ought we get drunk every weekend night, or not? Is the spoilsport administration the villain, or isn’t it? Are these the attributes of the good ole Irish Catholic University, or aren’t they?

Such a bizarre phenomenon of a person balancing two antithetical standards of conduct in their mind is, of course, partially brought on by the college atmosphere in general. College provides a space where the freedom of adulthood to be explored, with none of the responsibilities—by several thousand adolescents at once. It is, therefore, by its nature a bubble rather separate from the outside world. Different sort of standards in the “college mentality” apply, and these are often opposed, as seen, to the normal standards we might otherwise hold ourselves to.

Add to this the unique nature of Notre Dame itself—a place where tradition and the stereotypical “Notre Dame Experience” are prized above all else; where dorm Mass is sometimes attended simply because it’s the Notre Dame thing to do rather than the Catholic thing to do—and you get the ideal murky atmosphere for strange lifestyle contradictions to brew (heh).

And although I don’t have much hope about stopping the vast majority of people from drinking, I do think that this murkiness surrounding drinking culture should be combated.

So I will be blunt and unambiguous: getting drunk is wrong. The Catholic Church says as much. Humans have a responsibility to accept and use with prudence our gifts of rationality and free will.

Secondly, the effects of the drinking culture on campus are disastrous. I don’t know why anyone would expect anything less considering what a dorm party actually consists of, but unfortunate events and clumsy mistakes and broken friendships and slipping grades seem to be just another thing for the Notre Dame drinker (or most heavy drinkers for that matter) to sweep under the rug when they wake up in the morning.

From a purely pragmatic standpoint, alcohol does a great deal to facilitate sexual assault. This is not to avoid pinning the blame on the perpetrator. It is to point out that alcohol by its very nature reduces one to a lower moral and rational state. And it is to point out that, statistically speaking, alcohol is inevitably involved in the vast, vast majority of such assaults.

Drinking is pervasive. It is everywhere and it reduces a weekend campus culture to flashing lights in boys dorms and lonely, hungover Saturday mornings. I would bet that nearly everyone knows somebody—probably multiple people—who drink enough to need some kind of intervention or professional aid program. Even the theoretically drink-shy give in: the casual “social drinker”—that all-excusing epithet—is hungry enough for social interaction on to head down the hall to Patrick McVarsity’s room to drink Natty Lite which he purchased with his fake ID at Belmont Beverage down the road.

This is not to say anything new, of course. People make the decision that this is what they want from college life, and it certainly is easy enough to get it. Irritation will not stop the drinking culture, and may even make me sound a bit pathetic. Fair enough. The drinking culture for better or for worse (read: for worse) has become a part of Notre Dame, and the twisted strangeness of the shotgunners and the drink-stirrers lining up to receive the Blood of Christ the next day is, I guess, rather…interesting to observe.

I only wish that it wasn’t such a moral scourge and a piece of hypocrisy for the school.

James Rahner is a junior philosophy and theology major currently living in Duncan Hall. He enjoys rubbing moistened fingers around the edges of wine glasses for musical effect. To ask him about his technique, and/or to send him hate mail, you can reach him at jrahner@nd.edu.

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