The kind of questions students are asking on student chat forums, versus the kind of questions we should be asking…
The other day I was googling “Freshers week” to find some good tips for the RAP website- Raising Awareness and Prevention Project- about staying safe and happy during your first week at University. I was shocked when I went online to find a page from “The Student Room”, a live forum, asking: “How to pull on Freshers week??”. Some of the threads were as old as 2008, some of the more recent threads, from 2017, were asking questions such as, “I’m a mature student, can I still get laid during Freshers week?”
Even more shocking were some of the responses elicited by these questions.
“Really depends on the amount of whores that are around. That is the truth. You may get lucky if there are a lot, and the boy girl ratio is in favour of the boys.”
“I tapped a 23-year old postgrad over the Summer. Good stuff.”
What has the 21st century- a world of TV shows and technology- done to our perception of relationships, I wondered. We are living in a world where we get ideas about what a relationship is from Love Island. A world where university students are encouraged, on a normal evening out, to get competitively drunk with their peers, before going out and “getting with” as many girls/boys as they can.
My experience of university was exactly this. In a way, I shouldn’t have been shocked to see the evidence staring back at me online. Sitting in dingy student kitchens, chanting drinking games, encouraging each other to down our pints in 8, 7… and then not remembering the night afterwards.
Freshers was not the “best week of my life” as some people claimed it would be; nor was it enlightening, nor did it help me to make functional relationships with other people. Two of the evenings, in fact, I have no recollection of. One of the evenings I remember leaving a club with a much older looking man who encouraged me to “come back to his” for another drink. Thankfully he wasn’t threatening and as I started to sober up I realised the potential dangerousness of the situation and left. Not all students, of course, get hammered during fresher’s week. Not all students find themselves in potentially threatening situations…but an awful lot do. It’s important therefore that we recognise the pressure that our students are facing and acknowledge some of the situations they are exposed to so that we can help them to have happier and healthier experiences of university.
Our culture is normalizing dangerous attitudes towards alcohol consumption and dangerous attitudes towards relationships and sex. We are creating environments where teens and students see “a successful night out” as one where they have taken someone home and “pulled”. “How many people did you get with?”, “How many people have you slept with?”. These are questions that commonly get thrown round these days, usually accompanied by a light-hearted, “I was so drunk” or “I was so high”. We desensitize ourselves to the severity of certain situations, to the mind-damaging effects of alcohol, to the emotional impact that having sex with strangers might have on us. And in the long run we set ourselves up to be more vulnerable, we find it harder to recognize what constitutes real, meaningful relationships.
It is so important we start talking about these issues more often and more openly. Students at university, and at secondary school, need to be made aware of the influences and pressures they are exposed to. Students need to be made aware of the ways in which they are culturally influenced every day. They need to be made aware of how unrealistic shows like Love Island are, and how potentially damaging the effects of bingeing and boozing can be.
We have bought our teens into a world of social media, broadcasting, reality TV shows, screens, screens, screens and left them to it. Fingers crossed they will be able to negotiate all this technology and turn out to be still bright, communicative, personable members of society. The pressures we have put on our teens have now grown so enormous we can’t simply stand back and leave them to it. It is our responsibility to help. It is our responsibility to make sure they are aware of all the ways they are being shaped, moulded, influenced, brainwashed sometimes, by technology. We need to teach our children safe behaviours, limits, strategies. We need to teach them how to practise healthy, caring relationships. We need to ensure that our students don’t just leave school with an A* in English or a First in Chemistry but with the skills to be happy, healthy and confident individuals.