It only took the 107th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association to figure out the key to binge drinking on college campuses — students who do it are having an awesome time. According to a survey of about 1,600 undergraduate students attending and revelling at "a selective Northeastern residential liberal arts college" in 2009, binge drinking had a strong correlation to students' social satisfaction, and those students who were best able to maximize their social satisfaction were wealthy, white males who generally behaved like carefree patricians in second century Rome.
According to Carolyn L. Hsu, co-author of the bacchic study, "Binge drinking is a symbolic proxy for high status in college." In other words, binge drinking successfully in college is more or less like the young-adult equivalent of having a wagon load of Chuck E. Cheese tickets (incidentally, adults can also drink at Mr. Cheese's fine establishments, something to consider if you ever happen to find yourself planning a child's birthday party). Hsu broke down the social hierarchy of the elite (primarily white) American institution of higher learning, explaining how rapidly imbibed booze is the preferred currency used to climb the collegiate social ladder:
It's [Binge drinking is] what the most powerful, wealthy, and happy students on campus do. This may explain why it's such a desirable activity. When lower status students binge drink, they may be trying to tap into the benefits and the social satisfaction that those kids from high status groups enjoy. And, our findings seem to indicate that, to some extent, they succeed.
Though students from higher status social groups, i.e. wealthy students, become more reliable binge drinkers than their salt of the earthier peers, researchers found that students from lower status groups engaged in binge drinking in order to appropriate some of the status afforded to their higher status students. When lower status students engaged in a hearty bout of binge drinking, moreover, they tended to "attenuate," in Hsu's words, the effects of their lowly social status. Binge drinking, it seems, made everything way better for pretty much everyone on that mysterious Northeastern college campus back in 2009.
The big binge drinking winners were white, wealthy, Greek affiliated, heterosexual, and male students, though those who didn't binge drink weren't nearly as happy or affable as their soggier counterparts. As for the other social groups on campus, researchers asked them to assess their social satisfaction through a survey that asked them to gauge their overall social experience on campus. LGBTQ students, for instance, generally found campus to be an inimical or unwelcoming environment, whereas women, though more academically successful than their Hellenic male classmates, were more likely to experience prejudice and sexual harassment once they ventured beyond the classroom. Minority students also faced instances of discrimination, which can go a long way towards dimming the refulgent awesomeness that some of the more fortunate collegiates can only stare at through Ray-Bans.
Binge drinking ameliorated most of these problems, a conclusion that probably doesn't send the best message to incoming freshmen but a) nobody reads sociological studies anyway and b) the point of booze is to make really stupid or uninteresting things seem totally worthwhile. The positive social effects of binge drinking were especially evident in low-income, non-Greek affiliated, and female students. LGBTQ and minority students, though more socially satisfied than if they hadn't been binge drinking, didn't find that the endeavor nearly as awesome as their peers.
Most surprising to researchers, however, was that not many students were self medicating with alcohol — those students with the most stress or anxiety were the least likely to drink. Binge drinking at college is a form of social currency, a way for the privileged to flaunt their status and offer the downtrodden a shining example of glamorous dissolution.
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