Alcohol in Engineering

By Jude Habib

Recently, one of the most intensely debated topics in the EUS has been alcohol and its role in the EUS. The Ledger asked a varied group of EUS constituents to provide their opinions on the drinking culture within engineering, and here you can find their full responses. This conversation has been sparked by the proposal of the EUS Drinking Event Policy to Council in October. The policy has been a working document since Vivian Campbell and Morgan Grobin proposed it, and can be found here. The main intent of the policy is to help foster a safer and more inclusive environment within the EUS. It plans to do so through two avenues: safety and inclusivity, and funding. 

The policy’s article regarding safety and inclusivity echoes much of the sentiment that has been increasingly prevalent in recent years Froshes, such as always providing water, providing other non-alcoholic beverages at the same price as their alcoholic counterparts, promoting responsible drinking, active harm reduction and active bystanding.

The article regarding funding restricts EUS Funds from being used to subsidize alcohol at drinking events, and further encourages EUS funds to be used to subsidize non-alcoholic options, active harm reduction, active bystanding, or to help subsidize events for low-income students.

The policy also mandates certain EUS executives (Student Life, Internal, and Communications) to help in achieving this cultural shift, by gauging interest, organizing, and promoting non-drinking events, respectively.

The policy is less than four pages long, and if you are interested in it and its possible implications, it’s worth reading. There is also currently a survey to collect data regarding alcohol in engineering, so if you wish to have your voice heard, visit bit.ly/alcohol-eus. Also, the next EUS council meeting is scheduled to be on February 7th at 6pm in the Common Room. If the policy is moved, it may be worth attending the meeting to voice your opinion there.

 

Kareem Halabi, U3 Computer:

[A] drinking event is a drinking event whether alcohol is served or not.

One sentence that I have found to carry a lot of meaning in the past when trying to communicate my point of view on accommodating non-drinkers is that a drinking event is a drinking event whether alcohol is served or not. For example, in my eyes, a water-based boat race is equivalent to a beer boat race. I think to better accommodate those who don’t drink (especially for religious reasons) the EUS should ensure that there are non-drinking activities that are not simply a translation from drinking activities.

If there was one big event for all of engineering, on the scale of a MERTW, that was purely non-drinking (maybe a food crawl or something along those lines) organized by a committee dedicated to planning the event — not EAC or ESC because that would spread them thin and I don’t believe they have had as much turnout in the past — I think that would be a major step in the right direction.

 

Malcolm McClintock, U3 Materials:

The best thing we can do is keep an open mind about the culture around drinking events.

Alcohol is fun; it’s used in engineering life as a social lubricant. It helps a lot of people be more comfortable with getting to know new people, trying new things, being yourself. It has found its way into a lot of major events supported by engineering, be it a relaxing day at OAP or championing your department at E-Week. But it’s not for everyone.

I don’t think alcohol is by nature exclusive, but the way it’s included in events is a reflection of a small portion of engineering students drinking habits. MERTW, apartment crawls, even departmental banquets all feel like iterations of the same core principle of getting turnt; there are so many ways to do pretty much the same thing, catering to the same crowd. But that’s what the people want, right? The events normally sell out, budgets are fulfilled; the same can’t be said for all non-drinking events. It feels unbalanced. Does one group have to give up alcohol for the others to receive programming that better fulfills their means of socializing? The EUS only has so many resources, and it’s already stretched kind of thin. I’d think there could be some kind of give and take. What if we try to find a middle ground and it fails, isn’t it easier to stick with what we know? It’s easier, but I can’t help but feel for all of the students who have never engaged with the EUS because we haven’t made something that works for them; it’s not fair. So what do we make?…I just don’t know. 

But it’s not just the events run; the EUS office is brimming with beer bottles, the Pipeline always has something about a beer die league or a coordinator application for a drinking event and so on. The best thing we can do is keep an open mind about the culture around drinking events. Everyone’s always harping on “it’s the culture of engineering”, “it’s tried and true”, “it’s what’s been done”, “how can you change culture”… But before people start worrying about the future, I think it’s important to at least acknowledge that more resources are put towards events with alcohol, that the EUS doesn’t cater to a significant and identifiable portion of its constituent members, and that there’s a direct relationship between participants of drinking events and involved people in the EUS. If people can take this into their hearts openly, I think change can come.

 

Martin Aralov, U5 Mechanical:

I feel that the overall setting is respectful enough of people that do not want to drink. I love all EUS drinking and non-drinking oriented events that involve alcohol (3-Man and Ski Trip).

I personally am an immigrant and came here (to Montreal) when I was 11, straight from my home country. It took me several years to get used to this new life (and I’m not completely used to it yet). One result of that was that I do not have lifelong high school or CEGEP friends. In McGill Engineering, I found people I really clicked with. And I found them through “alcohol” — to put it very simply. Partying helps people to open up, to communicate, to meet new people. And what is a good party? One with alcohol. I used to be a shy person and partying helped me overcome this. In this side of the world, in this culture, alcohol takes a big place in society and people like it. I see absolutely no reason why there should be steps taken towards the elimination of alcohol in our lives. I feel that the overall setting is respectful enough of people that do not want to drink. I love all EUS drinking and non-drinking oriented events that involve alcohol (3-Man and Ski Trip).

 

Maana Javadi, U4 Computer:

I honestly believe that it’s improved a lot over the years…[but still] the shift towards a more inclusive non-drinking culture has a long way to go.

Yes, it’s true, the drinking culture within engineering is aggressive. However, I honestly believe that it’s improved a lot over the years. Non-drinking options at large-scale events like Frosh and E-Week exist and we have a committee dedicated to organizing non-drinking social events (Engineering Adventure Committee). That being said, the shift towards a more inclusive non-drinking culture has a long way to go — hyping the non-drinking events a little more, or dare I say it, replacing MERTW with a non-drinking event (we have so many pub and apartment crawls anyway, what’s really the point of MERTW). Nevertheless, I wouldn’t say the problem is exclusively within engineering, look at Carnival and Faculty Olympics.

 

Xavier Chagnon, U3 Mining:

There is a real effort and desire by the EUS to promote and organize inclusive, non-drinking events as proven by the EAC.

As a fourth-year student in engineering at McGill, I can say that the diversity and the number of both sober and drinking events is staggering. There is a real effort and desire by the EUS to promote and organize inclusive, non-drinking events as proven by the EAC. I am surprised by the recent turmoil amongst students as to why we should question subsidizing drinking events, as these events are often some of the most popular, and we want to make sure that a maximum number of people can afford to attend. It is in the spirit of inclusivity and accessibility that I personally think that both drinking and non-drinking events should continue to be subsidized.

Anonymous U1:

I actually appreciate the alcohol culture in EUS, and am somewhat thankful for it.

When I was hesitantly signing up for Frosh, I could only think of aggressive peer pressure drinking and unimaginable forms of rowdiness (as if that’s still not a thing), but now I can say that it is a lot better than I thought it’d be. I actually appreciate the alcohol culture in EUS, and am somewhat thankful for it. I’ve discovered many things through “drinking” events, like discovering different types of beer that are actually pleasant despite initially hating the taste of beer (looking at you Heineken). I also made a hefty amount of friends, and I’m not saying that it’s the best way to do so, but hey, at least I found people that I have something in common to start with!

 

Alex Scheffel, U2 Mechanical:

I think a good solution to the issues prevalent in this culture is to ensure great non-drinking options to events that do involve alcohol.

First off, there are definitely good and bad aspects to the drinking culture in engineering at McGill. In my experience, it’s been a great way of helping develop high attendance events which helped me meet so many of the people I’m still friends with now. Because it can be hard to achieve high attendance at events that don’t involve alcohol, I think a good solution to the issues prevalent in this culture is to ensure great non-drinking options to events that do involve alcohol. Also, staying aware of any issues and actively trying to remedy them is key to improving in the future.

 

Fariha Hassan, U3 Mechanical:

Everyone in university is just here to have a great time which may or may not involve alcohol, depending on your choice.

The summer before my first semester in Mech Eng, I researched the EUS, MAME and POWE because I knew before I even started that I wanted to be involved. As a result, I had also asked a few people in engineering about their experiences. A lot of the answers had a worried undertone. I don’t drink alcohol and a lot of people warned me about the huge drinking culture in engineering. Although intimidating at first, I didn’t let that stop me from getting involved. Within 2 weeks after the first day of school, I was elected the VP Admin of MAME and surprisingly to me, nobody cared about my drinking habits. None of the groups I am involved in such as MAME and the PPO think that it’s something impeding having fun. With their encouragement, I’ve participated in numerous events in engineering such as E-Week and MERTW with my friends by drinking water or coke instead.

However, I do have to say that it is easy to feel intimidated by the drinking culture and the reputation it has gained within the engineering community. It’s something that would have prevented me from participating more if not for my MAME and PPO family. Luckily, they were there to reassure me that nobody really gave an ass about how much I wanted to drink or if I didn’t want to drink at all. Everyone in university is just here to have a great time which may or may not involve alcohol, depending on your choice.

 

Amara Slaymaker, U4 Chemical:

I’ve always found people in the EUS to be accepting of whether or not I choose to drink, and how much. However, I do recognize that this is my experience and may not be the case for everyone

I think that our drinking culture could still be improved by working to further normalize the choices that people within the EUS might make to drink or not drink. However, I also think that there are positive aspects to drinking culture within the EUS, particularly when it comes to including non-drinking aspects in events with drinking and providing options for people that don’t drink. I feel like we’ve made a lot of improvements in these areas over the past few years and I hope that we can continue in this direction to further improve our culture.

Overall, I think drinking culture within the EUS has been steadily improving since I came to McGill in 2013 and is in a pretty good place right now – although that’s not to say there can’t still be improvements. For example, if you look at E-Week compared to other similar multi-day events that involve drinking like Carnival, I think the culture around E-Week is generally a lot more positive. There are a lot more non-drinking events, and at events that do have drinking, there are a lot more steps taken to provide options for people who don’t want to drink – for example by providing non-drinking tickets for the week and non-alcoholic options for events like Pub Crawl and Century Club.

In terms of the attitudes of people within the EUS, my personal experiences with our drinking culture have been very positive. I’ve always found people in the EUS to be accepting of whether or not I choose to drink, and how much. However, I do recognize that this is my experience and may not be the case for everyone – attitudes can still be improved and we should continue working to normalize the various choices that students might make with regards to drinking – or not drinking – in order to further improve our culture.

I think that continuing to place an emphasis on creating inclusive events that have options for everyone regardless of whether or not they choose to drink, will help to continue to normalize people’s choices with regards to drinking or not drinking, and help bring further improvements to our drinking culture.  This is one of the first years that a significant amount of effort has been put in to improving events with drinking for people who don’t drink, so it’s still not perfect, but definitely a step in the right direction.

 

John Karpuk, U4 Mechanical:

What I like about the McGill Engineering culture is that we have an environment where we can get together and have fun in a safe and responsible way. Our parties are open and inclusive. Blues and other EUS events are open to anyone and encourage people to have a good time in an appropriate way.

 

Gareth Price, U0 Chemical:

The survey which has been spread to solicit member’s opinion about the issue is a good step forward, and I hope this semester when the issue is discussed again that the debate will be approached with more consideration towards different points of view.

I think the EUS’s current conversation around drinking culture is extremely important to a society that continues to grow as the world around it changes. At this point, I can’t say with any certainty where I think this will lead the EUS, or even where I think the EUS should go. That being said, the issue I feel permeates the debate is the lack of knowledge and understanding about different points of view and quantitative data on which we should base this decision. The survey which has been spread to solicit member’s opinion about the issue is a good step forward, and I hope this semester when the issue is discussed again that the debate will be approached with more consideration towards different points of view.

 

Vivian Campbell, U4 Materials:

For engineers who don’t drink, or who are not comfortable at a drinking event, [the drinking culture] can make it seem like they have no place in the EUS…

I think the issue with drinking events and drinking culture in the EUS is not that they exist, but that nothing else does. We have no social culture that publicly represents the EUS as a society that isn’t drinking culture. For engineers who don’t drink, or who are not comfortable at a drinking event, this can make it seem like they have no place in the EUS, that the EUS does not represent them, or care about them. My experience in the EUS says that perception is false, but until the events and the leaders that most visibly represent McGill engineering can show that, many of our students will never explore beyond the surface perception of the EUS, and will never find the inclusive, supportive, and positive community that I have.

 

Morgan Grobin, U3 Electrical: 

I think that it’s time for the EUS to examine how often it promotes and encourages binge drinking.

There are two issues that my original motion was trying to address. First, the toxic drinking culture in Engineering. It’s exclusionary, unhealthy, and does nothing to further the academic progress of students. Second, I believe that it’s unfair that student fees from non-drinkers contribute to subsidizing alcohol consumption at binge drinking events. I think that it’s time for the EUS to examine how often it promotes and encourages binge drinking. We know binge drinking can lead to serious consequences for people – like hospitalization for alcohol poisoning, or even contributing to alcoholism. The EUS could do better by spending its money on events that allow students to further their academic and professional careers.

 

Saad Waseem, U3 Electrical: 

So while the culture is not perfect and there’s many small things I don’t like about it, as a whole, it is definitely improving.

I think the alcohol culture at McGill is improving. And thankfully so. During my first years at McGill, the alcohol culture was very prevalent, the only events held were those that involved drinking. I like to think that I was somewhat instrumental in changing this by being the only or among few who did not drink and did all these events. I was the first person to get a non-drinking ticket for E-Week, MERTW, etc. And because of this, an awareness has been brought up of the topic. Due to this, more and more people who do not drink, or choose to not drink, are able to feel included and want to try these events. Non-alcoholic beer at Century Club this year is a prime example. So while the culture is not perfect and there’s many small things I don’t like about it, as a whole, it is definitely improving.

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