By Maggie Miller
[Note: This is part 2 in a series about social culture at Denison. Part 1]
In my recent post on OneTwentySeven, we took a trip down memory lane of the last three and ½ years of Denison social culture and arrived in the Fall of 2019 with the introduction of the Moonies. Through investigating Denisonians feelings towards the Moonies, I revealed that First-Years have a more positive outlook on these spaces, and one of the hypotheses is that First-Years were excited to have a social space at all after the long six weeks at the beginning of Fall 2019 before the Moonies were finished.
See, when Denisonians arrived in the Fall of 2019, Sunnies parties were done but the Moonies were not ready. Until the end of October, there were few acceptable places for students to host social gatherings, and Campus Safety was quick to shut down anything in the Sunnies and anything unauthorized.
For the majority of Denison’s campus not having a place to spend Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights was a tough reality to face. The question OneTwentySeven wondered was what effect this approximately six-week gap between the beginning of the Fall 2019 Semester and the opening of the Moonies at the end of October 2019 might have had on binge drinking?
The rumor mill around campus during that six-week period was also that underclassmen would go on a search on Friday and Saturday nights for social-scenes and if they found one, for fear of Campus safety shutting it down, they would drink as much as possible before the party was over. Was an unforeseen consequence of the gap between the opening of the Moonies and the start of the Fall Semester an increase in campus binge drinking?
OneTwentySeven wanted to find out the answer to these questions, and in their recent February 2020 survey they asked questions regarding binge drinking. For privacy protection purposes our survey could not ask about the respondent’s habits specifically so the two questions asked about the respondent’s “closest friend”: How many days in a typical week did they consume 4 or more drinks in 2 hours or less in the Fall Semester and then separately in the Spring Semester.
The figure below shows the results of the two binge drinking questions. The average number of days in the Fall was approximately 1.63 and the average in the Spring was 1.56. In other words, binge drinking went down from the fall to the spring. In the Spring of 2020, almost 30% of respondents said their closest friend was binge drinking zero times a week in comparison to in the Fall of 2019 about 25% of respondents said their closest friend was binge drinking approximately twice a week. There is no way to determine if higher reports of binge drinking in the Fall is at all linked to the un-opened Moonies, however, it is interesting that Spring 2020 also saw a drop off in binge drinking compared to the Fall.
Another way to look at this data is to organize it by class year. The figure below graphs the Fall and Spring binge drinking averages by class year and shows binge drinking mostly dropped in Spring 2020 from the higher rates in the Fall of 2019 consistently across class years. Interestingly, First Years and Seniors had the highest rates of binge drinking compared to sophomores and juniors. Another surprising result is Seniors increased their binge drinking in the Spring where every other class year had higher rates in the Fall. One speculative explanation is the knowledge of impending graduation and the increased pressures of the last semester of college that falls upon Seniors. Another thought is that Spring courseloads for Seniors tend to be lighter and easier, thus providing more time to “participate in social culture.”
To provide some context and comparison to these results, OneTwentySeven went back into data from other surveys and found that in February of 2018 our survey asked a similar question about binge drinking. The 2018 and 2020 questions regarding binge drinking were worded differently – in 2018 we allowed respondents to define binge drinking for themselves as opposed to 2020 where we defined it in the question.
In the 2018 survey respondents, 31% of respondents said they engaged in binge drinking in the past week. Those same respondents believed about 49% of Denison’s campus was binge drinking in the past week. By class year, in 2018, 20% of First-Years, 30% of Sophomores, 32% of Juniors, and 40% of Seniors said they were binge drinking in the past week. By these comparisons, our 2019/2020 survey reports are quite high as 70% were binge drinking in the average week. We strongly suspect that the differences in the question wording (4 drinks does not constitute binge drinking for many students – the campus average definition of binge drinking in 2018 was 6 drinks ) contribute to the difference, but so does reporting about a close friend in 2020. The logic follows the “Friendship Paradox” – that your friends tend to be more popular than you. Maybe the question wording means that students reported about more social students. These are still astonishingly different percentages, with 2020 being quite high. The new question to explore is why?
Maggie Miller is an almost Denison alumna who is experiencing quarantine in NYC while pondering what a post-pandemic job market looks like. She is looking forward to her Zoom University Class of 2020 graduation on May 16th.