College administration should not blackout on tradition

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September 3, 2010

2:08 AM

By now, most of you know that the administration is pushing forward with a revision of the Student Handbook. The whole affair seems to have ruffled some feathers around campus. Having little patience for legal jargon, I was especially struck by the new attempt to prohibit “items used predominantly for drinking games.” The administration’s new offensive against drinking games is likely an exercise in futility. Drinking games have a history almost as old as mankind and have been a university tradition for centuries. They are probably here to stay.

First, I wish to say that it seems perfectly reasonable that the administration would want to limit drinking games. Study after study has shown that games lead to an increase in alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems. One survey even found that over 90 percent of students reported their goal in playing drinking games was “to get drunk.” The proposed ban on games does have students’ health and well-being at its heart.

That being said, it is only natural that students will not adhere to this ban if it is instituted. Drinking games are fun, or in the words of one researcher, “Drinking games are a popular social activity that provides a focus for social interaction.” This has been the case for millennia.

Drinking games are likely as old as alcohol itself. Ancient Greeks and Romans enjoyed them — so much so that Plato even has Socrates and his friends playing an early drinking game in his philosophical text “The Symposium”. A Chinese game called Jiuling can be traced back to the Western Zhou dynasty (1100 BC to 771 BC) and has remained a part of Chinese drinking culture for thousands of years. Most of these ancient games involved the recitation of poems or the rolling of dice.

Colleges have been home to drinking games since the Middle Ages when the modern university system was in its infancy. Since then, they have always been popular among students. Even our modern drinking games have long histories.

Take, for example, that exemplar of games: beer pong. Like any great institution its origins are shrouded in myth and legend. The game likely originated in a Dartmouth College fraternity in the early 1950s, when a multi-tasking ping-pong player set his beer down on the table.

Dartmouth is still very proud of its role in beer pong’s genesis. As one student journalist wrote: “It is hard to untwist the history of beer pong from the history of the College itself, as the two are inextricably linked.” The Dartmouth administration, however, is intent on doing just that. It recently banned water pong because of the risk of deadly water intoxication.

The birth of our “Beirut” style of pong is attributed to Lehigh University’s Sigma Nu fraternity. In 1986, after a very intense round of pong they broke all of their ping pong paddles. Not to be discouraged, they used their hands, and the modern game was born. It took its name from the city in which U.S. Marines had recently been killed by terrorists. The brothers of Sigma Nu thought that the United States should lob bombs in retaliation, just as they lobbed balls.

The fact remains that people, and especially students, love drinking games – and have done so for thousands of years. If our pong tables go, we know plenty of other games. Although well intentioned, a ban on drinking game paraphernalia seems pretty useless.

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