Welcome drinks for people who don’t drink

Ferdous Bahar politely declines your invitation for an O Week nightcap

Welcome Drinks

As I enter my fourth year of university I would like to confess that the regular meeting of people around a table of intoxicants still fails to appeal to me.

As a Muslim, I don’t drink, and so I speak from the perspective of the person awkwardly stand- ing between two strangers enjoying their choice of alcohol while I anxiously look around for that one bottle of orange juice. That token bottle, there to make the drinks table look a little more diverse.

Often I find myself skipping events pitched as drinks because I’d rather not be there than be there with an empty cup and an awkward expression. And that is not great. Because not only are these events good ways to meet new people, they can also be crucial from a career and networking perspective.

See, there is a difference between attending a friend’s party where alcohol might be one of many things served, and an event where alcohol is the only certainty. Being a visibly Muslim woman, I often wonder if the people around me feel uncom- fortable on my behalf, or, perhaps secretly question why I would rock up to a “drinks” event at all.

I brought this up with my friend and Sydney University Muslim Students’ Association Presi- dent Nasreen Dean who agreed that these events failed to cater for a diverse audience.

“When diverse options are proposed, it is framed as an alternative, a side option,” she said. “Our way of life is framed as a side option that needs to be man- aged, and that isn’t very empowering.”

Sure, the “drinks” label might just be convention and certainly there isn’t an intention to exclude non-drinkers—see: lone orange juice—but the very fact that we use alcohol as a socialising tool at university is supremely exclusive.

Welcome events where alcoholic drinks far outweigh the non-alcoholic instantly suggest to the broad, eclectic group of students looking to engage with other students that the norm is to drink. When did alcohol become such an uncon- testable socialising tool and why do we constantly perpetuate this idea?

If the purpose of these events is to bring a bunch of diverse students together and make them feel more comfortable in an unfamiliar environment, then perhaps we need to rethink how diverse the pitching of these ‘welcome’ events really is.