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Sweden’s relationship with alcohol

in Columns/Opinions/Swat Global by

Ever since arriving in Stockholm, I have been intrigued by Swedes’ relationship with alcohol. Sweden has a long and complicated history with alcohol, from problems with everyone always being slightly drunk to intense state control. The more I learn about the history of drinking culture in Sweden, the more I am convinced that everyone in Sweden should have a rocky relationship with alcohol, but from what I see and read, most Swedes seem to have a healthy relationship to alcohol.

Coming from a college campus I often find myself thinking about different people’s relationships to alcohol. Alcohol consumption, especially among young people in the U.S., continues to be a problem. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 26.9 percent of people over the age of 18 have participated in binge drinking in the past month.

I was curious to see how Sweden’s history with alcohol-related to their current relationship to alcohol so I dove a little deeper into the history.

During the 19th century, anyone in Sweden had the right to produce, sell, and consume alcohol, and they did. Alcohol consumption levels were very high, and so was the rate of alcohol-related crimes. Churches and the government saw this as a morality problem and worried about the depravity of the lower classes. In response, the Swedish government attempted to control alcohol consumption through strict penalties for alcohol-related crimes like public intoxication or disorderly conduct. This system failed to reduce overall alcohol consumption in Sweden.

Sweden then created a national alcohol monopoly, removing the right of individual citizens to produce and sell alcohol. This also failed to fix the alcohol problem. During the early 20th century there was talk of a complete prohibition of alcohol, but instead they turned to a ration system.

Every Swedish citizen was given an alcohol ration book which controlled how much alcohol they could buy each month. Every time they went to the liquor store it was marked in their book. This system was in place from 1919 until 1955, when public protests forced the system to be abolished.

The ration system was abolished, but the monopoly on alcohol stayed. All alcoholic drinks with an alcohol content higher than 3.5 percent must be sold in a “Systembolaget,” a state-owned liquor store monopoly.

Systembolaget is still used today to help control alcohol consumption within the nation. Although Systembolaget is hated by many citizens, who complain about the lack of a free alcohol market, Sweden’s alcohol consumption has actually begun to decline in recent years.

In my time here I have observed that Swedish people our age have a different relationship with alcohol. It may be that I do not attend a residential college, but I do not see many drunk people around Stockholm. Whether I am at a party hosted by the school or at a club in downtown Stockholm, I do not see wasted people. When I mentioned this to my friends here, they all agreed. This could be because alcohol is ridiculously expensive at clubs, but I think it is more than that. Swedish people just don’t like getting blackout drunk.

Anyone who has been on Swarthmore’s campus, or really any American college campus, has seen that many Americans do not have a healthy relationship with alcohol. Of course, many people drink responsibly on Swarthmore’s campus, but there is still a significant population that does not. Every Sunday morning we all hear stories of people who drank too much and ended up sick or making a terrible decision, these are not the kind of stories I hear in Sweden, and when I do it is of the American students.

Swarthmore in no way has an unusually unhealthy relationship with alcohol. In fact, there are many things that make drinking at Swarthmore safer than in a lot of other places. The problem with drinking on Swarthmore’s campus is not the existence of underage drinking, but the way that it is done. Students work so hard to make sure they are not caught drinking that they make the dangerous decision to binge drink in their dorms instead. It is not just students, either — Americans as a whole do not have a very healthy relationship with alcohol.

Why is it that the drinking culture in the U.S., including at Swarthmore, is so much worse than in countries like Sweden? I believe that the drinking age in the U.S. plays a big part in fostering unhealthy relationships with alcohol. In Sweden anyone over the age of 18 can buy a drink at a restaurant and anyone who is over 20 can buy alcohol at Systembolaget. Since the drinking age in the U.S. is 21 in almost all cases, some people in college can legally drink while others cannot.

The drinking age provides an incentive for binge drinking. Students want to be able to go out and have a good time but they know they may not be able to get alcohol while they are out, so they binge drink. Instead of going into Philly to have a few drinks and a good time, students take several shots in a dorm before going out to a party on campus. This kind of binge drinking can lead to serious health complications.

Drinking alcohol is not a bad thing. Many people find healthy ways to consume alcohol, and it can even have positive effects on one’s life by fostering social relationships, but it is important that people consume alcohol a healthy way.

There are things we learn from the Swedish system. For example, since 18-year-olds in Sweden can get alcohol at a restaurant but not in Systembologet, they are forced to drink more responsibly. They know they will be able to get alcohol while they are out, so they do not feel the need to binge drink before going out, and bartenders go through training to know when to stop serving someone if the customer is drunk they will not be served.

Americans’ relationship to alcohol is not going to change overnight, but realizing that there is a problem and that it doesn’t have to be this way is the first step towards fixing it. I recognize that the law puts Swarthmore in an uncomfortable position when it comes to alcohol consumption, but recognizing that students on campus are going to drink and investing effort into providing opportunities and spaces for students to do this safely is a good first step.  If students were allowed to bring their own alcohol to parties on campus, it could reduce the pressure to pre-game heavily. In addition, Pub Safe could focus their enforcement mechanisms, looking more closely not just at what kind of alcohol is being consumed, but also how it is being consumed. Instead of banning all hard liquor or all drinking games, focus on preventing things like Everclear and shots for the sake of shots.

Swarthmore may be limited in what it permits on campus, but it is possible to tweak the current rules and regulations to allow safer drinking practices.

Alcohol for the atmosphere: Swarthmore as a wet town

in Campus Journal by

Maybe it is just me because I come from a state where you can walk into a Walgreens and see a handle of vodka next to the health vitamins, but I think Pennsylvania alcohol laws are weird. When I first visited Swarthmore during my senior year of high school, my parents decided to go get something to eat in the Ville while I was visiting classes, and after walking around the two blocks that consist of downtown Swarthmore, they were puzzled by the lack of food options. A quick Google search showed that Swarthmore was a dry town, and that was probably why there were so few restaurants. Due to this fact, they have continued to make fun of me for wanting to go to an urban school and ending up at a school in a dry town 11 miles outside of Philadelphia that looks like it could be in the middle of nowhere.

But this summer that might all change.

Swarthmore 21, a community organizing group, is working to change Swarthmore to a wet town on this summer’s primary ballot. For more on that see: “Swarthmore 21 Causes Debate in the Borough.”

The thing about a dry town is that it doesn’t just prevent stores from selling alcohol: it prevents the town from growing. The mark-ups on alcohol in restaurants are astronomically larger than the mark-ups on food, allowing more restaurants to make a larger profit. An increase in restaurants brings more foot traffic to the town, allowing other stores to open up. Basically, our economy runs on alcohol.

When I chose to come to Swarthmore I knew I wasn’t getting a school that was integrated into a big city or had a huge party scene, and I was okay with that. But now that I am here I miss having a downtown area to wander. I miss walking around on a nice night and seeing couples eating outside of restaurants or kids playing in the fountains. I miss the quirky local shops and restaurants. More than that, I miss the atmosphere.

If you want to know what this is like, just walk by the Inn on any given night. Has anyone else noticed that people at the Broad Table Tavern always look happy? As I walk by the big glass windows I stare in wearily, wishing that the ziti didn’t cost $20. The place is always packed, and the reason isn’t just because the food is decent: it is because it is a monopoly. Regular people that drink and just want to enjoy a glass of wine with their dinner only have one place to go in this town, The Broad Table Tavern. Hopefully this will change soon.

I envision several restaurants opening up, offering students and residents alike places to eat out and laugh over a nice glass of wine. I see families walking through the streets on their way to a nice dinner. I see residents and students enjoying a nice conversation as they wait for a table. I see people walking through the Ville just because it is a nice place to be.

I don’t think my expectations are that out of line. Small towns have charm, why can’t this one?

Party Shutdown Causes Controversy

in Around Campus/News by

After local police and Public Safety officers broke up four parties on a Saturday night shortly before the end of fall semester, students waged a heated debate about drinking culture and fraternities on campus in the comments section of a Daily Gazette article.

Commentators on The Daily Gazette’s article (The Gazette offers online coverage only) covering the party shut-down primarily blamed the fraternities for encouraging binge drinking on campus, perpetuating rape culture, and enacting racist policies. Fraternity members and other students felt as though the accusations stemmed from a variety of factors, including negative stereotypes attached to Greek life, rather than from actual evidence.

During the night in question, the International Club, i-20, hosted a heavily publicized “Arma-get-it-on” apocalypse-themed party at Olde Club, while an “End of the World” party took place at Paces. Additionally, both the Delta Upsilon and Phi Psi fraternities held their winter formals. In the aftermath of the parties, several students were hospitalized. Five received citations for underage drinking, including a Bryn Mawr college student, according to Chief of Police Brian Craig.

One anonymous commentator (entitled “Hmmm…” on The Daily Gazette website) wrote, “The dangerous levels of intoxication and numerous hospitalizations related to the DU formal repulse me to no end… and you all claim you are nothing like a drinking club.”

The commentator (Student 1), who chose to remain anonymous, stood by her description of the fraternities as a drinking club in an interview. “I would prefer that they owned up to that instead of shrouding themselves as some preposterous service or leadership group,” she said. Student 1 added that she did not feel the fraternities were entirely to blame for perpetuating binge drinking on campus, but that the entire campus had a strong drinking culture.

Rory McTear, Delta Upsilon president, disagreed with Student 1’s assessment of the fraternities as drinking clubs and described DU’s community service activities as a way in which the group is more than simply social. During fall semester, DU cleaned up the Swarthmore Friends’ Nursery playground, helped with the Red Cross blood drive and the Swarthmore Friends’ Meeting House jumble sale, participated in a cleanup with the Chester Housing Authority, and joined with the other Greek organizations on campus, Phi Psi fraternity and Not Yet Sisters (soon to become Kappa Alpha Theta sorority), to pick up trash in the Crum Woods, McTear said.

In connection to drinking culture, Student 1 and others raised the issues of sexual assault at the fraternities. “Rape and alcohol are generally co-morbid,” Student 1 said. She added that the social expectations surrounding alcohol at the fraternities contribute to instances of sexual assault on campus and said she feels that students feel safer committing sexual assault in the environments of the fraternities. “I believe the frats need to work on combatting their very obvious rape culture,” Student 1 said.
Student 1 feels that the fraternities have a responsibility to take action when they are aware of brothers who have committed sexual assault, but that this action has not taken place. She believes that fraternity members are aware of fellow brothers who have committed sexual assault or rape, but continue to allow these brothers to participate and in some instances even protect them.

Student 1 said that, in her opinion, the fraternities promote a culture of violence, and that the administration does nothing to curb the problem. While she acknowledged that her evidence of sexual assaults was largely anecdotal, Student 1 sees this as indicative of administrative efforts to shield fraternities from disciplinary scrutiny. “The administrators are out to protect these gross white misogynistic, racist, homophobic groups instead of victims of violence,” she concluded.

Joe Hagedorn ’15, a member of Phi Psi, believes that the accounts of fraternity members perpetuating rape culture stem primarily from the interface between the school’s judicial organizations, privacy policies, and the fraternities.

“The most common complaint seems to be that brothers who have been accused of sexual assault or other offenses are not disciplined by the fraternities,” Hagedorn said. “The problem is, we have absolutely no information about these [disciplinary] proceedings. We can’t punish someone for something we don’t know happened.” Swarthmore does not release the names of students involved in disciplinary cases regarding sexual assault.

McTear detailed Delta Upsilon’s involvement with several on-campus organizations and groups which target issues of sexual assault and rape culture. During fall semester, McTear said, DU joined with SMART to provide sober escorts at Halloween, tabled at Sharples to promote consent, and participated in a workshop hosted by SMART, along with Director of Worth Health Center Beth Kotarski, to discuss how to raise awareness of sexual assault on campus.

“We look forward to teaming up with SMART again this semester to raise awareness for sexual violence by helping with their annual Clothesline Project and Handprint Pledge,” McTear said.

Students also leveled accusations of bigoted policies and behavior at the fraternities in the article’s comments section.

Paul Cato ’15, who has served as the president of two cultural groups in the past two years, including the Swarthmore African American Student Society (SASS) and Achieving Black and Latino Leaders in Excellence (ABLLE) wrote in a comment, “I can attest to the fact that there have been multiple incidents involving inexcusable racial insensitivity by fraternity members at Greek functions, parties, etc… I can confirm the fact that we have had to support the victims of such incidents on multiple occasions.”

However, Cato concluded by thanking the fraternity members to whom he and his groups had reached out, and expressed a desire for the entire campus to make an active effort to prevent such instances.

McTear explained that, in an effort to curb discrimination and create an inclusive atmosphere, DU participated in a workshop at the Intercultural Center (IC) to discuss reaching out to queer students as allies and providing safe spaces for the queer community at Swarthmore. He added that the fraternity is currently in the process of organizing a similar workshop with the IC and ABLLE to provide more inclusive spaces and discuss issues of racial insensitivity.

Lanie Schlessinger ’15, who also weighed in on The Daily Gazette debate, felt as though the accusations leveled by many commentators were founded on anti-Greek and anti-athlete prejudice rather than actual evidence. Schlessinger said that at Swarthmore, athletes and members of Greek organizations are stereotyped as irresponsible, stupid, or poor students as a result of their frequent participation in social activities, stigmatic notions which she feels are tremendously inaccurate.

Schlessinger explained that this stereotyping is not in line with Swarthmore’s usually accepting culture, and that she feels it is paradoxical to claim a commitment to diversity while discriminating against members of Greek organizations.

“I’m not proposing that we construct an affirmative action plan for frat members, and I want to make it very clear that I’m not equating the suffering of ethnic minorities to that of frat members,” Schlessinger clarified. “But when I came here, I was consistently taught that judgment as a whole was unacceptable.” Schlessinger said that while she makes a concerted effort to shed all of the stereotypes and stigmas she previously believed in, the lack of acceptance for Greek groups and athletes keeps her from fully subscribing to this philosophy of inclusivity.

An anonymous commentator called “Junior” (Student 2) wrote that they found Schlessinger’s comparison between anti-fraternity discrimination and other forms of discrimination, such as homophobia and racism, offensive.

“Minority students are marginalized and oppressed. We conduct anti-oppression work to combat that,” Student 2 wrote in the comments section. “The frat brothers do not need anti-oppression work because most come from the most privileged groups of society. They don’t have laws against them. They aren’t victims of hate crimes. They don’t fear for their safety as they walk down the street.”

Student 2 added that anger towards fraternities on campus was not a result of fear of the groups as foreign or different — in fact, Student 2 wrote, fraternity culture permeates the dominant culture. “We challenge the frats because what they’re doing is wrong and runs counter to the values of Swarthmore as an institution. They deserve to be scrutinized,” Student 2 concluded.

Despite efforts by both sides to create a constructive conversation about Greek organizations, students remain bitterly divided over the role of fraternities in shaping campus culture. It remains to be seen how the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta, which takes its place on campus and receives an official charter this semester, will change the debate.

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