Thanksgiving block party counters binge-drinking culture at Rutgers
Last Tuesday, students walking down the College Avenue campus had the chance to celebrate Thanksgiving early at the "Thanksgiving Block Party" hosted by RU Sure.
RU Sure, a program created by the Center for Communication and Health Issues (CHI), was started in 1997 to reduce excessive alcohol use by students at Rutgers, said Joseph Bae, the marketing coordinator at CHI.
“Our tagline for the RU Sure campaign, which has kind of been our main tagline for 15 years, is that two-thirds of Rutgers students stop at three drinks or fewer and one-fifth do not drink at all,” Bae said.
That tagline opens up many doors for students, he said. It shows that there are other things to do at Rutgers, and other outlets for connecting with people, outside of the drinking culture. By highlighting the population that does not drink, RU Sure is able to demonstrate to students who do not want to drink that there is an entire population of people who feel similarly.
Tuesday’s block party was designed by students in Advanced Health Communications, an upper-level communications class held in CHI, Bae said.
The goal of the event, he said, was to initiate conversations and different dialogues between students about the common misconceptions surrounding drinking. By offering free bagels, hot cider and doughnuts, RU Sure hoped to reel some people in and then have some conversations about drinking culture that might not have happened otherwise.
“As I have been doing this the past few years, I find more and more that students who chose not to drink or not to drink dangerously seem to have little to no regret and no type of fear of missing out,” Bae said.
Bae said that one of those conversations is about peer pressure and the fear of missing out by choosing to not drink or not drink excessively during college.
RU Sure does not want to imply that all drinking is bad, but instead that students should not feel pressured to drink based on a misconception of what “the college thing to do” is, Bae said.
“(This is) especially at Rutgers,” Bae said. “'The college thing to do' could be a whole other thing. The college thing to do could mean joining the hundreds of clubs here, doing the college thing might mean pursuing academic or research interests.”
Another big focus of RU Sure is on the diversity at Rutgers, he said.
Rutgers being so diverse means that there are a variety of different people with varied interests, as well as a variety of reasons why someone would choose to avoid drinking culture, Bae said.
People choose not to drink for religious reasons, personal reasons like being in recovery, not enjoying the taste and not enjoying the atmosphere, among other reasons, he said.
“I think that the beautiful thing about Rutgers is that the choices that you choose to make are your choices,” Bae said.
He said that they remind students not to worry about what others think about their decisions, because there are groups at Rutgers that will feel similarly to them.
Christie Schweighardt, student body vice president and a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said that students have been receptive to the program’s education-first approach to binge-drinking.
“The point of the program is to keep students as healthy as we can as they go out over the weekend. We know that we cannot prevent students from drinking, but we can ensure that they have food and water in their systems while they are on their way to a party or when they are coming home from one,” Schweighardt said in an email.
She said that each weekend the program runs, RUSA provides food and water for over 1,000 students. It also has an educational aspect to it as they hand out fact sheets wrapped around water bottles and engage in conversations with students.
Schweighardt said that RUSA tries to plan their programs around "high-risk" nights.
With the holiday season coming up, Bae said that it will remain up to their students to decide when the next RU Sure event will be. This is because the group is student-driven and they believe that the message of safe drinking will be stronger if it is promoted through students.
“I can tell a student all of these stats or all of these things … but you get a 19, 20, 21-year-old telling them all of these things … I think it’s more powerful if a student tells them this,” Bae said.