There are many things that could be said or analyzed about the culture of alcohol and sex at Notre Dame. However, I believe there are a few key things that contribute and correspond to the unique situation at Notre Dame. It should be noted that many of these things are generalizations and exceptions definitely exist, but it is the general view and opinion – that of the majority, or the most vocal – which drives the culture on campus.
I believe the prominence and importance of alcohol at Notre Dame is bound up in the typical reputation of college life, boredom, outlet for stress, and most importantly, the social aspect.
As Christian Smith says: we do exactly what we’re told to do – “party, be wild, get crazy, have fun, drink a lot” – which we’re able and more excited to do because of our new-found freedom. This is not unique to Notre Dame, but does form the basis for this type of alcohol use. We put pressure on ourselves to live up to this reputation of the college years – to make them all that they’re talked up to be, and a big part of that is the social and drinking scene.
I think what Christian Smith says about boredom is particularly relevant at Notre Dame, because there are not other equally interesting or exciting options to explore on campus or off campus, or at least that is how it is presented to us. Social outlets are important, but the only ones we ever hear about – that catch our interest – are dorm parties, off-campus parties, or Finny’s, Feve, CJ’s, the Backer, etc. Everyone laughs at dorm parties, like frosh-O, but they’re widely accepted as a “rite of passage” that eventually lead to off-campus and the bars.
Another aspect that is characteristic of Notre Dame is the idea of “Work hard, Play hard.” Although Notre Dame may not demonstrate the extreme application of this saying, I think it is indicative of the mentality which drives the drinking culture to be more extreme and wilder than it would be otherwise.
And here I think is one key part. The drinking culture is THE social scene on campus. Yes, there are alternatives, but for the most part, if you want to make friends, have fun, do anything on the weekends, it’s understood you’ll participate. Granted, you may not be pressured to drink an inordinate amount – you can exercise self-control and not be directly pressured or forced to drink more (at least this was my experience as a female – I think it varies), but there is an expectation that you’ll attend and participate. And simply being around it encourages you to join in, whether out of the desires to “get crazy” or simply fit in. Drinking is an equalizer, and an excuse. You can do things you’re afraid to do otherwise, with alcohol as the scapegoat if it fails or gets out of hand. It can give you the courage to socialize with others you might not otherwise, and the ability to make friends with those you may never meet or have anything in common with outside of parties.
And for the sexual culture? I believe it is most connected with the social and drinking scene. Having same-sex dorms means there is little day-to-day interaction between the sexes apart from classes. The only other common interaction may come from activities, but this is usually a small number of people. So how are you to make friends with members of the opposite sex – especially freshman year, but even throughout the years? Dorm parties, SYR’s, and other social events, usually involving alcohol. Like the “fraternity” aspect of the dorms that is automatically accepted, this too is simply understood as what you do at ND. This emphasizes the importance of the social aspect of parties.
Beyond perpetuating the prominence of the drinking culture, it relates to the sexual culture on campus as well. As a female, there is automatically the pressure to dress up for parties, in a way that will present a good, attractive image for the guys you’ll meet, and earn good judgment from the other girls. And how many times do you have a conversation at a dorm party that leads to a new friendship being formed? Or at least one that goes beyond a common favorite song or drink? Instead, the focus revolves around dancing, drinking, and surface-level interactions between people. This is where the hook-up culture stems from. Drinking, dancing in crowded room creates anonymity and acceptability to what occurs at the party, which may lead to further sexual activity. And anything that is outside the realm of acceptable or anonymous dancing or hooking up can be dismissed, attributing it to wrong judgment or lack of awareness due to alcohol consumption.
The desire for approval, friendships and relationships with the opposite sex is then largely centered in participating in parties. The desire for fun is centered in activities involving alcohol.
Over the four years, the mentality can evolve and mature, but for the most part, there is the understanding that you have to “make it count” while you can, since it’s the “best four years of your life” and that after college you’ll change — once you have to. And once the standard is set for all social activities to revolve around alcohol, once the extraordinary craziness is the standard, the ordinary forms of enjoyment don’t seem attractive anymore.