reflecting on my research

Having done Society and Culture in high school, I already had prior experience with designing and carrying out primary research before starting BCM212. However, there was still much more to learn from this class that I had not expected. I feel as though BCM212 allowed me to refine the way I design my research questions, surveys, and conduct group interviews. This time around, there was a big focus on ethical practice and careful, deliberate choices when choosing methods of research. The most pleasing outcome of this class is that I think that the skills learnt will be applicable in many future classes across all different faculties, as research is the basis of many academic pursuits.

Choosing a topic for this subject was difficult as I was considering many options and could not narrow down my focus. I still believe my topic was far too broad in the end, as I struggled to find a specific point to focus on for my opinion piece. Next time I’m conducting research, I’ll aim to refine my point of interest into a more specific, niche question. However, the topic of alcohol consumption did provide many opportunities for maturing my research skills. There were more ethical practices to consider with alcohol being a mind-altering substance, and I was prompted to ensure my participants were comfortable and properly represented.

I was especially proud of the research I designed for this topic. I used a survey to obtain basic, quantitative information about my topic, which would later be complimented by qualitative data obtained in a group interview. Using Likert scales in the survey was something new for me, and I enjoyed being able to see a visual/statistical spread of student’s general opinions to later inform the way I designed my interview questions. The group interview was conducted concisely, and the participants were not only comfortable but enthusiastic to discuss the topic. Their opinions on binge-drinking and alcohol as part of the student experience helped me to later construct my opinion piece. Overall, the only hiccup in my research design would be the final question of my survey; “Drinking alcohol in the context of University has impacted my overall well-being (positively and/or negatively). Agree, Disagree, Unsure?”. Only the ‘agree’ option would direct participants to the next page, where there is an open-ended question about the impacts of alcohol on well-being. Looking back, I should have removed this step entirely and only had the open-ended question, because most students missed this final page by selecting ‘disagree’ or ‘unsure’. As a result, I lost a lot of potential qualitative data.

“just have a drink”

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Let’s get one thing straight; Australia has a drinking problem, one that does not terminate on campus. Uni bars, orientation week parties, and music events are just a few examples of alcohol being integral to the student experience. It is considerably rare to find a university student in Australia who never drinks alcohol, and most will do so once or twice per month at the very least. But how does this drinking culture impact a student’s studies, social interactions, and well-being?

Most students will disagree with the notion that alcohol has negatively impacted their studies, however when asked about the drinking culture on campus one student admits to skipping a tutorial “once in a blue moon…” to have drinks at the uni bar with friends. It is not uncommon for students to congregate at the campus bar for drinks and a chat before class. Though these habits might not be considered problematic for most, the presence of the bar on campus can be dangerous to some students with less self-control; the same student admitting to missing classes also claims to have seen friends “fail subjects just because they’ve spent too much time at the uni bar”. So, it can be said that the impact of alcohol on campus on academic experiences is either negative or neutral in most cases, depending on how often a student will casually drink during the day. But again, this isn’t necessarily a direct outcome of having the bar on campus. Instead, it is the learned behaviours of the individual that create these habits. But why are some students choosing to drink so much, and so often?

The most consistently given reason for students choosing to drink alcohol with university friends and at university events is for the enhancement of social situations or dealing with anxieties about social interaction. The same students who acknowledge this positive aspect of the campus drinking culture also show concerns with the potential for excessive drinking, which may lead to embarrassing situations or unwanted hangovers. The balance of alcohol’s positive or negative impact on well-being and social interaction is dependent on either responsible or excessive drinking behaviours. Students seem aware of the obvious risks involved with heavy drinking, yet some choose to do so to such an extent that it negatively impacts the overall student experience. Even the perceived positive impacts of alcohol on social interaction can develop into unhealthy dependency when not drinking responsibly. The reason for these behaviours is different for everyone, though there is a common thread found in each account; peer pressure.

Many students agree that the binge-drinking culture in Australian universities is perpetuated by peer pressure and a need to “fit in” with other students. These negative situations are usually facilitated off-campus, especially in student parties and events like o-week. “When you come to uni, binge-drinking culture is so normalised,” says one student “it’s encouraged through events like o-week where the students are drinking every day of the week.” So, while the uni is not directly responsible for these bad drinking behaviours, the way they organise certain events can lead students to feel like they must be drinking to participate in the student experience. Another student who does not drink alcohol at all talks about their own experience with peer pressure at student parties; “I’m sipping on my juice, and people come up to me and ask, ‘why aren’t you drinking? just have a drink!’. I think even if you went out thinking you weren’t going to drink, you’d feel so much pressure.”

Although alcohol can enhance social experiences when consumed in moderation, a combination of peer pressure and the normalisation of drinking alcohol as a university student creates a potentially dangerous binge-drinking culture that can negatively impact students. It can create bad drinking habits that affect uni work and social situations, leading to stress and negative outcomes for personal well-being. It is important for universities to consider reducing the integration of alcohol with the student experience by creating spaces and events without the presence of alcohol, to compliment those that do. Because many students drink to reduce stress and enhance social situations, ensuring a balanced and responsible relationship with alcohol minimises the negative impacts on student well-being while maintaining these positives. O-week should be re-evaluated as an orientation for uni students, as it sets a precedent for new students of frequent, excessive drinking and clubbing. Universities should aim to facilitate more alcohol-free events during the orientation week as alternatives to the usual activities, which will allow more students to find friends and ‘fit in’ outside of exclusively just drinking and bars. Reducing the potential of irresponsible drinking habits for university students could be the essential first step to alleviating Australia’s deeply rooted binge-drinking culture and improving the country’s relationship with alcohol.

 

References

Anonymous (2018). Drinking habits of uni students highlight Australia’s drinking problem. [online] Canberra Times. [Accessed 23 Mar. 2019].

my curiosity; schoonies@uni

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In my Japanese classes at University, we often will have speaking practice sessions over Skype video-chat with students from our Sister-Universties in Japan. I was once asked by a Japanese student in one of these exchanges, “What is your favourite place to go on the University campus?”. My reply was, of course, the Unibar. However, my call partner was shocked by my answer; “You have a bar on campus!?”.
I hadn’t previously considered the normalisation of bars on campus in Australian Universities, and how it could be unusual in other countries like Japan. It had me wondering why it is the case in this country; it could be assumed that, like many other countries where on-campus bars are common, our legal drinking age (18 years) is in alignment with what is usually the age of students entering University. But in thinking more critically; I wonder if perhaps the nationwide familiarity of licensed, on-campus facilities could be because of Australia’s deep-rooted cultural norms surrounding alcohol consumption and binge-drinking activities (especially among young people and University students).

So, for my research task about the student experience at University, I decided to look into the drinking habits of students at the University of Wollongong, with a specific scope on the O-Week events and the Unibar on-campus. In particular I would like to know how often and why students choose to drink alcohol in a University setting, and if they do, what quantities of alcohol they are regularly consuming. I’m expecting many answers relating to stress-relief and social drinking, and hope to unpack any issues or problems that may occur from these habits. I believe this research topic is relevant in understanding the impulsive or sensation-seeking behaviours commonly found in Australian University students that participate in regular heavy drinking. Usually students who frequently drink will describe their motivation as either enhancing social experiences, or coping with outward pressure, stress, and social situations. It is crucial to determine whether or not these motives encourage safe and responsible practices in response to internal/external problems, or create an unhealthy dependency on what can be a harmful substance in large quantities. I’m hoping to collect many different opinions about alcohol consumption in a University setting from a variety of students, with both pros and cons relating to frequently, occasionally, or completely abstaining from consuming alcohol. Social and academic impacts stand out as two categories most relevant to the student experience.

References

Loxton, N., Bunker, R., Dingle, G. and Wong, V. (2015). Drinking not thinking: A prospective study of personality traits and drinking motives on alcohol consumption across the first year of university. Personality and Individual Differences, 79, pp.134-139. [Accessed 23 Mar. 2019, via Google Scholar].

Anonymous (2018). Drinking habits of uni students highlight Australia’s drinking problem. [online] Canberra Times. [Accessed 23 Mar. 2019].