London Metropolitan University has announced plans to become “more cautious” about sex and is considering introducing alcohol-free zones amid concerns that Muslim students, who make up 20% of the undergraduate population, might be offended and excluded by the excessive student culture.
Speaking at a conference in Manchester, Vice Chancellor Malcolm Gillies emphasised the importance of “cultural sensitivity” and the need to cater to all students, including those who might be put off by the ‘traditional’ student image of drinking, partying and sex.
One specific issue he referred to was the fact that the university shouldn’t subsidise a student bar when there are so many pubs and drinking establishments students can get to within a very short distance of the campus. But this might not be popular with undergraduates, who often list the cheap student bar as one of the chief attributes of their university.
Furthermore, Gillies discussed the possibility of introducing alcohol-free zones on campus where only soft drinks would be available, in order to provide a more welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for Muslim students whose religious beliefs prohibit them from consuming alcohol (or, often, from being in the vicinity of those who are) for moral reasons. With a fifth of the undergraduate population made up of Muslim students and “no majority ethnic group”, it is considered to be pandering unfairly to one particular group of students if the university focuses too much on the provision of booze.
The issue is particularly sensitive at Fresher’s week, the introductory week of university events and social occasions that helps to integrate students when they first arrive in September. Traditionally the week has long been associated with cheap booze, club nights and pictures of drunken students falling out of bars in their pyjamas, but that could be set to change, as London Metropolitan is also considering introducing alcohol-free events. The fear is that a booze-fuelled first week of partying and debauchery could alienate Muslim students and others whose beliefs prevent them from joining in with such activities, creating an immediate cultural divide between different groups of students and making social integration later on more problematic.
However, whilst the plans are positive (and cutting down on alcohol probably wouldn’t harm most students’ grades either!) it is important that they are carried out in a sensitive way. Unless the changes are framed in the right light, it would be easy to envisage a potential backlash against certain groups of students if those who are keen on alcohol and partying consider them ‘responsible’ for the changes.