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Drink, Sir, is a Great Provoker

Mustafa Farooq (3L)

When I first got into the U of A law school, I distinctly remember the early orientation presentation. (I think it was in early March, before the deposit registration deadline.) Here I was, surrounded by hundreds of other students who had also just got in, and I was ready to be motivated and excited by an introduction to a place where I would be learning, studying, and moving forward in my career.

I was astonished, however, after the Dean’s introduction, as the various student speakers began to talk in some detail about the U of A’s “awesome parties.” And they kept going. A representative from the Law Students’ Association (LSA) at the time proudly announced that they had arranged for a bus to head to Leduc for a party after the orientation.

Little to no mention was made by the students, if I recall correctly, about the curriculum of the law school, student advocacy and community leadership, and the opportunities for students to succeed in their professional lives through an exploration of clerkships, experiential learning, and career development. My perception of “student culture,” indeed, was a significant factor in my decision to go to Osgoode Hall Law School.

Since transferring back to the U of A, I’ve realized that my perception of the U of A “party culture” was largely overblown. I’m grateful to be in a class that is so intelligent, honest, and collegial; I’m loving my time here. Despite the fact that I am religiously forbidden to drink, this has not barred my ability to make friendships that I am confident will last a lifetime.

My experience, however, at the early orientation, as well as more recent events, such as the ski trip issue, the “Ave in the Gav” disturbance, and others, demonstrate a lingering question about a U of A “party culture” and the question of student professionalism. Yet I think that the questions about the partying, drinking, and “schmoozing” represent an issue that is much bigger than U of A students partying too hard. These broader questions further highlight the inadequacy of the administration’s response to those more recent events, and sketch out the need for further exploration in the future.

The first question that we need to ask ourselves, as students, is about the need for serious introspection about the issue of drinking and partying culture. I can’t think of a single social event, organized by the LSA this year, that was held without alcohol. This should give us some degree, I think, of pause; can we, as law students, get to know each other better without the infamous liquid social lubricant? I think there’s a real question about the need to create better forums for social interaction where students don’t have to get “plastered” to have fun and learn about our fellow colleagues.

This question is especially important for the broader issues about student health. We all know that law school can be, by its very nature, an isolating and alienating experience. Using alcohol as a method to socially relax after a long and grueling week, however, can both potentially encourage an unhealthy way of dealing with that stress, as well as not providing a real sense of community support during the five days of the school week when we really need to lean on each other for help.

In addition to the simple problem of alcohol-free community-building, we have to realize that drinking can often involve other issues that we would all agree to be harmful. Drug abuse at parties, for instance, is a phenomena that we are all aware of; it is also a problem that can continue into our professional lives, as it does for some practicing lawyers in the city.

“The party culture can also assert itself in other sinister ways: a U of A alumnus, Stephanie Laskoski, recently wrote a blog post highlighting her experience with inappropriate sexual touching at the hands of a drunken student while attending another law school’s formal. This is an issue that would likely make us feel better by crying out things like, “drink responsibly!”; but, as I think is clear in the scientific literature (see the famous Lancet study in 2010) alcohol is an extremely harmful drug and can be often difficult, by its nature, to consume “responsibly.”

On the student end, then, we need to ask ourselves some very tough questions about the potential issues with a student culture that glorifies partying. But the Faculty of Law administration needs to ask itself a number of questions as well.

Firstly, there is the question about an appropriate response to the various student incidents that took place. Sending out mass emails to the Faculty and student body, naming the LSA president and the ski trip organizers and ordering them to respond, did not help matters at all. Instead of first having a face-to-face meeting with the LSA president and the ski trip organizers to identify potential problems and solutions, the response by the Faculty administration infantilized the student body and serves only to create a divide between the administration and the student body, which may not help the situation in the long run.

Secondly, the Faculty needs to ask itself a number of questions on encouraging partying culture. It is fascinating to me, at least, that numerous hiring events are held on the U of A campus, with Faculty support, that serve alcohol (“but make sure the students don’t get drunk–that would reflect badly on our professional standards!”).

A number of Faculty members, indeed, as well as instructors throw large parties for the students, where getting drunk with your professor is seen as a fun way to get to know them. At one student party held this year, where students got drunk and rowdy, Faculty were in attendance. It seems to me, at least, that the U of Administration needs to think about the potential repercussions of having “wet” spaces in our building (I can assure you that when I was in Political Science, we did not have Department-approved drinking in the Tory Building), and its impact on professionalism.

In moving forward, then, the above events help spur us on to think critically about student culture, mental health, community building, and Faculty support in the future. Hopefully we can take advantage of these learning opportunities to grow, as a student body, as a law school, and as a profession.

[Revision/Edit: In a previous version of this article, it was written that Ms. Stephanie Laskoski had experienced inappropriate sexual touching from another drunken student while attending the U of A Carbolic Smoke Ball. The author has contacted Canons and advised that this statement is actually incorrect. Ms. Laskoski was in fact attending another law school’s seasonal formal when the inappropriate conduct took place]