The university is a smoke-free zone and will be fully vegan by 2030. An alcohol-free campus is not yet in the pipeline, although the dangers of alcohol are becoming more apparent. But with a party in the Maassilo, a beer cantus, a festival of its own and parties at associations and all over the city, alcohol often flows freely during the introduction week. Even when it comes to Eurekaweek, a lot has changed in recent years.

In 2014, the legal drinking age was raised from 16 to 18 -it is forbidden to provide alcohol to minors, and they are not allowed to have alcohol on them in public places. So, an alternative Eurekaweek programme was needed for 17-year-old first-years. These activities are by now more than just an option for minors. Are you not into huge parties and loud music and maybe prefer a quieter evening? Then you are also more than welcome.

The policy for participants who are allowed to drink alcohol is also changing. Since 2018, alcohol isn’t served from noon, but from 2 pm. Also, ever since the pandemic programmes, bars are located in fewer places. Guides are told in advance that drinking games are strictly forbidden. The image of a week of binge drinking is carefully being eroded; for example, the word ‘beer’ is no longer allowed to be quoted in official communications. Beer Cantus, for example, has become Cantus. And during this cantus, ‘festival beer’ – with a lower alcohol content – is sold on purpose.

Campus with a 'silent killer'

The number of people who drink excessively tends to drop after graduation, notes Wim van Dalen of the Dutch Alcohol Policy Alliance. Although he finds it worrying that many university students still drink heavily (18.1 per cent) or excessively (12 per cent), and more than students at universities of applied sciences (hbo). Of all students, only 6 per cent purportedly do not drink at all. Drinking at a young age is bad for brain development, and alcohol is also quite addictive. These concerns are shared by the Alcohol Expertise Centre along with, amongst others, Rotterdam brain researchers Hanan El Marroun and Janna Cousijn, both of whom research addiction.

In 2018, the Dutch government came up with a plan: the National Prevention Agreement. By 2040, the number of students who drink too much must be halved. Erasmus University is also committed to this. According to the latest research figures, these measures are still having hardly any effect. Students have even started to drink slightly more, although these data date back to the Covid period.

A campus with a bar, a pavilion and a supermarket that sell alcohol – the Dutch Alcohol Policy Alliance is not a fan. “Alcohol should not be freely available”, says Van Dalen. “The fact that it can even be bought on campus encourages its use. Or at least it gives the impression that it’s acceptable. Alcohol is a silent killer. That’s a scary term, but it is apt. If you drink too much and too often, alcohol will slowly take its toll on your health. The advice from the Health Council is clear: don’t drink alcohol, or at least, don’t drink more than one glass a day.”

The Executive Board previously told EM that it did not see the need to curtail the availability and sale of alcohol. “Alcohol-related problems seem to happen mainly in clubs and in people’s private lives, rather than being a problem on campus.” Van Dalen finds this regrettable. “University boards ought to take responsibility.”

Less drinking in Delft

Just before the summer, Delft’s introduction week, the OWee, signed a new pact with thirteen student associations, the municipality, the university and several health organisations. The aim is to get students to see not drinking as normal. This helps them to handle alcohol in a responsible way.

In Delft, alcohol is served at three official events during the introduction week, in Rotterdam this number is seven. During Eurekaweek, students work behind the bar at several venues, but this is no longer allowed in Delft. From now on, bar staff will even come from other cities. What’s more, lighter beer (4 per cent instead of 5 per cent) is served throughout the week, the glasses are smaller, and three non-alcoholic beers feature on the menu.

A good start, says Van Dalen. He definitely does not think that a ban on all alcohol is realistic. The fact that the word ‘beer’ is not allowed to be used in the official communications of Eurekaweek or its partners, but that there is a cantus (not a beer cantus), makes Van Dalen smile briefly. The word prevention alone is not enough to effect change. “It is more important that alcohol becomes less readily available, and that not drinking becomes more normal”, he insists.

The university was asked to comment. There has not been time to give one yet due to the hectic times and holidays.

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