Seriously, UF students, drinking's not everything

Published: Saturday, September 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 31, 2007 at 10:36 p.m.

Recently UF was again ranked among the nation's top "party schools" by the Princeton Review, coming in at No. 4 this year, up from No. 11.

As a survey methodologist, aware that the exact question wording may influence the outcome of poll results, I looked a bit closer at how the "party school" ranking is defined. It is based on student responses to five questions: use of beer, use of hard liquor, use of marijuana, hours of study each day, and the popularity of the Greek system.

It is the weight given to questions about alcohol and drug use which concern groups like the American Medical Association, which has criticized the Princeton Review for "fueling the false notion that alcohol is central to the college experience."

The AMA's "A Matter of Degree" initiative points to a sobering body of research, including a 2002 study that found alcohol consumption among college students aged 18 to 24 contributes to an estimated 1,400 student deaths, 500,000 injuries, and 70,000 cases of sexual assault or date rapes each year.

Each year.

Such statistics have concerned UF administrators, and helped inform President Machen's efforts to curb binge-drinking on campus. But isn't college drinking a rite of passage? How much fun can a student have without beer?

I happen to be a graduate of Brigham Young University, which has ranked as the Princeton Review No. 1 "stone-cold sober" school for 10 straight years. So what did we do on the weekends for fun, instead of cracking a keg?

* We played games. Games of hide and seek around campus, parlor games like charades, and trivia games. It wasn't mere coincidence that Kenneth W. Jennings III, who had participated in quiz-bowl competitions at BYU, went on to win over 70 games of "Jeopardy!" over six months, earning more than $2.5 million and entertaining the nation with his quirky sense of humor and mental gymnastics.

* We danced. A few years ago a Gainesville audience was enthralled when the BYU International Folk Dance Ensemble performed at the Phillips Center. BYU also has strong programs in ballroom dancing, which is a popular physical education class. And most every Friday and Saturday night, there are dances somewhere on campus.

* We attended the many film series and performances around campus. As a private school with strong programs in the liberal arts, there was a smorgasbord of interesting and worthwhile activities, many free to students.

* We took advantage of the mountain surroundings. Some friends scheduled all their classes for certain days of the week, leaving the other days open for skiing. During warmer months, the mountains also provided a venue for rock climbing, hiking, and whitewater river tubing. One of my fondest college memories is going up the canyon with a bunch of skateboarding friends. I stayed in the jeep, towing them to the top of each hill. They skated down the road as far as they could, and then waited for another tow.

* And on Sundays we went to church. (It's a church-run school, after all.)

Student congregations are the hub of social activity. Just about every large lecture hall or auditorium gets turned into a meeting venue. One year our Sunday school president was the football quarterback, who went on to play for the NFL. It was an impressive example to see him conducting a meeting covered with bruises from the previous afternoon.

So attending school there was a lot of fun, despite being "stone-cold sober."

And while I was a student at BYU, I never once walked into a class with a hangover. I never missed an assignment because I was too stoned to function. I never had to worry about whether my date was too drunk to drive home safely. I never woke up in a strange bed, unsure how I got there. I never wasted a minute worrying about contracting a sexually transmitted disease, becoming pregnant, or feeling used by a man.

Perhaps one of the most important things I learned in college was that I didn't have to be drunk to have a good time.

Colleen Kay Porter is a Gainesville mother of five and grandmother.

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