Drinking alcohol during the OWee: your own decision?

The OWee is in full swing with thousands of new students visiting TU Delft and student associations. It is no longer a matter of course that they drink alcohol.

“Participants who have reached the right age can decide themselves if they drink alcohol or not. What we want to do is encourage conscious decision making.” (Photo's: Roos van Tongeren)

Alcohol and student life, inextricably linked for years. But this is changing. In 2018, five TU Delft student associations made an agreement with the Stichting Jeugd en Alcohol (youth and alcohol foundation), the Red Cross, TU Delft and the Municipality of Delft to raise awareness around alcohol consumption. This agreement was extended by four years last June and another 10 student organisations have joined.

The first opportunity to reach new students is the OWee, the introduction week for new students. How are the student associations and the board of the OWee dealing with the issue of alcohol consumption?

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The students who organise the OWee say that they are trying to separate every aspect of student life from alcohol, be it making friends or looking for accommodation. “Our slogan is alcohol does not make you a cooler student,” says Niels van Kouwen who, in his capacity as Chair of the OWee Board, is responsible for alcohol policies. “Participants who have reached the right age can decide themselves if they drink alcohol or not. What we want to do is encourage conscious decision making.” How? By placing placards on the bar at official OWee parties with texts like ‘Have a soft drink’. The student mentors who accompany groups of new students also play an important role. They are given information through the Stichting Jeugd en Alcohol about responsible alcohol consumption. “We want to avoid any peer pressure in mentor groups,” says Van Kouwen. “Whether or not you drink alcohol should be your own decision.”

Board members of student associations agree with this. Drinking alcohol during their evening activities is optional and not a must. “We organise activities to get to know each other and the association,” says Benthe Spruijt, the board member at Virgiel. “People may drink a beer during the activities, but we try to give as many options as possible.”

One way to encourage responsible alcohol consumption is to offer alternatives. Soft drinks and alcohol-free drinks are available at all OWee activities. Alcohol-free beer is especially popular. All the associations have made agreements with their breweries to ensure the supply of alcohol-free beer. There are also water points at all official OWee parties so that people can help themselves to water if they are thirsty and do not have to go to the bar.

The bar staff are also under strict instructions during to reduce excessive alcohol consumption. People who are drunk will not be served alcohol anymore. There are also first responders at all activities. “Our members exert social control,” says Delano Flipse, Secretary of the Delftsche Studenten Bond in 2019-2020. “If someone has drunk enough, we will offer them water. We will also talk to the OWee participants.”

The student associations are also very careful about under-age drinking. Nearly 500 participants are 17 years old or younger. They will be given a special wrist band and may not drink alcohol. If they are caught drinking alcohol, the band will be cut off and they may not join the introduction week anymore. “Four hundred students may seem a small group, but we must comply with the law,” says Van Kouwen of the OWee board. “We are getting better every year in enforcing the age limit.”

Culture change
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Despite striving for responsible alcohol consumption, alcohol has certainly not disappeared from the OWee programme. Various association activities centre around alcoholic drinks. For example, Virgiel holds a Biergarten and D.S.V. Sint Jansbrug a whisky tasting session. The board members say that these activities are just one aspect of the associations. Some members of Virgiel brew their own beer and some members of Jansbrug enjoy whisky.

DSB holds a beer relay race. “We do not see this as an activity that promotes alcohol,” says Flipse. “In our experience, new students only drink one or two beers and they can also join and not drink any beer at all.” According to the OWee board, each association may decide for itself what they do in their evening programme. But it does say that it looks critically at the activities in the official programme.

“We want our alcohol policy to be a support for the associations which they can draw on all year round,” says OWee Chair Van Kouwen. “We are pleased to see signs of a change in culture.” The peer pressure in some of the associations to drink alcohol must change. This is why there are always alcohol-free drinks on offer and association members and people should not think it odd if OWee participants drink soft drinks during receptions.

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Further, the associations inform their members about the dangers of alcohol. DSB and Virgiel hold symposiums on this subject for their new members. The Delftsch Studenten Corps and Virgiel also take part in national surveys – in collaboration with Heineken! – into the drinking habits of students. “We are receiving more questions and see that the issue is being taken more seriously,” says Virgiel’s Spruijt. “If students see that our association promotes responsible alcohol consumption, hopefully they will think about their own alcohol consumption.”

Michiel de Haan / Freelance redacteur

Editor Redactie

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