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Getting Wasted, Thomas Vander Ven

2011/11/22

As someone who attended a dry campus during my undergrad years, and now lives within close vicinity of one of the largest public universities in the US, I have long been curious-but-not-in-a-participatory-way about the appeal of excessive alcohol consumption amongst collegiates. So when I saw this book mentioned in the Chronicle of Higher Education, I hunted down a copy. Subtitled “Why College Students Drink Too Much and Party Too Hard,” the author, a professor of sociology and anthropology, spends plenty of time with college students, conducting dozens of interviews, excerpts of which can be found throughout the book. In his preface, Vander Ven makes it a point that he will be focusing on the social and campus-wide attitudes towards drinking, not just the individual habits, which he found the focus of most previous research.

He begins by examining the general association of college life with partying and drinking, briefly looking at the history of “college debauchery,” as well as insight into previous research and his own methodology of written surveys, interviews, and observations. Vander Ven asks students questions about how many drinks they imbibe, the type of drinks, the atmosphere in which they drink. He looks at the social impacts of drinking, such as its use as a “social lubricant” and ego-bolster, as well as its effects in light of race and gender. Note that throughout all of these chapters, there are excerpts from students talking very openly about their decisions to drink, their experiences, their regrets. Vander Ven also cites plenty of outside research and books for those who are interesting in further examining the subject.

Although I still don’t personally understand the appeal, this book provides insight into some of the social pressures and norms which encourage the alcoholism which we can see on campuses. Vander Ven ends his book with cautionary warnings to those who do choose to partake, although I think that his target audience for that particular message will not be the ones reading it; rather, he is preaching to the choir — those who have to deal with the fallout of the choices made by students to “drink too much and party so hard.”

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