The student culture is strongly associated with alchohol. The OWee Board believes that this should change. Along with 13 TU Delft student associations, the Municipality of Delft, TU Delft, and several healthcare organisations, they signed the new ‘Responsible Alcohol Consumption by TU Delft students’ covenant just before the summer holiday. As the name suggests, its intention is to encourage students to consume alcohol responsibly and to view it as nothing other than normal to not drink alcohol.
The alcohol covenant succeeds the contract in 2018, signed by five large student associations, the Stichting Jeugd en Alcohol (youth and alcohol foundation), the Red Cross, the Haaglanden region, the Municipality of Delft, and TU Delft. More organisations are now joining, including the Laga rowing club, Ariston ’80 student football club, the Community Health Services (GGD), and the Brijder Addiction Support foundation. On top of these, eight student associations have become ‘ambassadors’ for the new covenant of which the Studieverenigingenraad (SVR, the governing body for academic societies) is the largest.
That continued action is needed emerges clearly from the GGD Haaglanden’s Corona Gezondheidsmonitor Jongvolwassenen 2022 (young adults’ Covid health status monitor) that is cited in the covenant. Research shows that:
- 50.4% of the respondents consider it normal that friends drink 10 glasses of alcohol per day;
- 34.9% of young people at TU Delft are ‘heavy drinkers’ compared to 19.4% in the Haaglanden region.
Excessive alcohol consumption leads to ‘disorderly behaviour and physical damage, affects health and studies, and also creates a negative impression of students in general and the student associations in particular’, states the covenant. ‘This can then reflect negatively on the city of Delft and TU Delft.’
Having signed the covenant, the OWee Board is wasting no time. While the alcohol consumption at the 2022 OWee according to the board was already 26% lower than in the pre-Covid year of 2019, it is taking various measures to further reduce alcohol consumption under the slogan ‘0.0Wee=OK’.
‘Brains only mature at 23 or 24 years old’
One measure is that no alchohol will be served at 12 of the 15 events, and alcohol at the remaining events may only be served after 5 PM. As in previous years, this will be beer with 4% alcohol instead of 5%. For the first time, there will also be a choice of three alcohol free beers instead of only one. While 0.0 alcohol is often more expensive, this will not be the case during the OWee. The Board also hopes that the use of reusable cups – instead of the previous disposable cups – will discourage buying a lot of beer. The reusable cups are also smaller.
The mentors – senior students – who accompany the first year students also have to pledge, as in previous years, to keeping a watchful eye on the alcohol consumption in their group. There will be no volunteer students serving at the bars at OWee locations anymore as they allegedly gave away free drinks in the past. Instead, they will be staffed by external professional bartenders from outside Delft.
In taking these actions, the OWee sets the scene for what the signatories of the alcohol covenant hope will lead to a shift in culture. Nico van der Lely, a paediatrician in Delft who initiated the agreement in 2018, believes that these measures are still badly needed. He works tirelessly on reducing alcohol consumption. He founded a clinic for children with alcohol problems, successfully lobbied for raising the age of alcohol consumption to 18 years, and through his Stichting Jeugd en Alcohol (youth and alcohol foundation) co-funded the TU Delft alcohol covenant. He sees ‘three peaks’ in the number of students with severe alcohol poisoning in hospital emergency units every academic year: during the OWee and the introduction periods of fraternities and year clubs. “Brains only mature at 23 or 24 years old. In that sense, it is not good that such young students are mentors these days. Children will always welcome other children.”
Despite the picture that he sketches, Van der Lely does not have any hard data about alcohol abuse in Delft. But this will change. During this introduction period, a postdoc will count the number of people aged between 17 and 25 years that come to the emergency unit during the introduction period and how much alcohol there is in their blood.
‘When something goes wrong because of alcohol, it causes much damage’
The student associations and the other signatories of the alcohol covenant also want data, says student Meike Mulders. She is the Chair of the central student associations team (in Dutch: kernteam, which literally means core team) behind the alcohol covenant. Mulders says that the new core team, that will take office at the end of August and which she will continue to chair for continuity, will work on data collection. While the covenant states that a ‘positive trend is visible in the sales of alcohol free beer in the student associations’ and the OWee has seen a significant reduction in the alcohol consumption at its events, a large part of the introduction periods are held at the student associations. To date, there is no central information on whether the sale of more alcohol free beer really means that less alcohol is consumed.
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During the OWee, there is an increasing focus on problems related to alcohol abuse. These posters will be displayed at student associations. (Photo: SB)
Whatever the situation, everyone involved in the alcohol covenant knows that change will take time. A change in culture does not happen just like that. But the signatories believe that more choice in alcohol free drinks should bring about a change in behaviour. Workshops for bar staff at student associations on serving alcohol responsibly are already given, just as is information sharing to first year students. Further, greater attention is being paid to the problems associated with alcohol abuse such as sexually transgressive behaviour and addiction. Mulders hopes “That this will help gradually bring about a change in culture”.
Van der Lely hopes for this too, as he believes that in the end it is up to the students themselves. “It is their issue. All I can do is hold up a mirror. When something goes wrong because of alcohol consumption, it causes much damage to everyone involved.”