Indolink.com carries a good article highlighting a study by Samir Patel, Nausheen Rokerya and Maneka Singh at Cornell University titled, Switchovers: Indian American Drinking Culture at Cornell. The study claims to be the “first academic survey of ‘Indian American drinking culture’ in a college campus [setting].” The study sought to lock in on incoming desi undergrads who saw a particularly significant shift in their attitudes about alcohol (from something viewed as strictly taboo to something very normal and even necessary to have a good time).
Who were the subjects of this study? They were 12 Indian-American Cornell undergraduates – five male, seven female – who began drinking only after their freshman year of college. Demographically, nine were from the northeast, one was from the Midwest, one was from the west, and one was from the south. When questioned about their religious affiliation, three students identified themselves as being Jain, and nine as Hindus. [Link]
Since most of the people that read this site have graduated from college, the rest of this will be a bit nostalgic (and may even make some of you nauseous). If you find yourself getting angry or thinking, “kids these days…” it means you are getting wiser (AND possibly that kids are getting dumber).
First of all the study reveals that all of the freshman students were shocked upon arriving at Cornell and witnessing the heavy drinking atmosphere among their senior Indian counterparts. All interviewees also indicated a struggle between a desire to maintain roots and yet still get the full experience of American college life.
The authors argue that the “switchovers” adopted mainstream American culture and that the “adoption of this culture and consequent ideological shift was caused by a combination of socialization needs, avoidance of fears, and academic pressures,” including the desire to be popular among the opposite sex.
The study begins by claiming that the abstinent culture of the average Desi student can be attributed to the strong Hindu background and their parents’ primarily educational immigration motive.
However, upon entering college, the same Desi students realize that the culture found at Cornell is radically different from that which they were used to at home. They were particularly surprised that this culture, which so heavily promoted drinking and partying, was so willingly embraced by the college Indian community. One student did not “expect that this many Indian kids would drink” and was stunned as to how much Desi students did drink. They found that this new culture assigned significant value to “having fun” and recreation, as well as doing well in school: the “work-hard, party-hard” mentality that many of their non-Indian high school friends embodied, was also a value for many Desis at Cornell. [Link]
p>So let me break down for the researchers what I observed in college. For an increasingly greater number of students (desi and otherwise) “getting wasted” becomes a reward. It is something you deserve at the end of a long week for being an overachieving Indian student (even if your grades suck). Plus, everyone else is doing it and it might make it easier to talk to that girl/guy because, you know, maybe you aren’t that interesting otherwise. Another reason you may want to get wasted is because you don’t know how to tell your parents that you don’t want to be a doctor:
Many of the students apparently altered their life goals between the time that they entered college and the time that they began drinking, the study notes. According to the authors, this indicates a shift in ideology.
For example, one student’s goal during her freshman year was to do well in school so that she could prove to herself and her parents that she could in fact handle a Cornell workload. She never anticipated partying and socializing as being a big part of her life, but “the people [she] lived with went out to parties a lot so she went with them once in a while” and became exposed to alcohol. Similarly another student’s goal was to maintain a primarily academic focus. His goal was to excel academically, compensating for the fact that he did not get into MIT. During his freshman year, he placed “an emphasis on school work, not being social,” going out to parties only occasionally. Another male student said that his goal during freshman year was to “do well academically and get a high GPA.” A third male student’s goals were “not to get kicked out of Cornell, not to drink, to make good friends, to have a girlfriend, and to socialize…” [Link]
In August I attended a conference here in Houston titled, “Alcohol & Drug Abuse Among South Asians.” I was actually there to register people for the South Asian bone marrow registry but I did spend a good portion of the time listening to some of the talks. I was pleasantly surprised to see quite a few desi teenagers there with their parents. The better informed these parents are, the less of a chance their children will be shocked when they get to college.
After the students had switched over, they found themselves to be better assimilated into the Cornell culture. Whereas before the students often preferred to stay at home on weekends to study or relax, they now blended in with the rest of Cornell’s Indian drinkers, often starting their weekends off on a Thursday or even a Wednesday night. One student said that now he frequently “goes to the bars on a Thursday. Sometimes, [he'll] even go on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, if [he doesn't] have anything due the next morning.
The study concludes that desi students’ alcohol consumption served as a rite of integration.
A student promptly summed this up in her description of the Indian drinking scene at Cornell. “There were times when people got drunk, but most of the time, people were just buzzed. At a typical party, you’d see a couple of kids that were wasted, and everyone else would be pretty normal.” Another student recalls that even when he thought his friends were very drunk, they could act normal when they had to. He remembers, “Once my friend’s mom called him while we were walking home from a party. I thought he was going to say something stupid, but he played it off pretty well. She still doesn’t know that he drinks…” [Link]
So naturally, you know how this post is going to end. Let’s have it you anonymous commenters whose parents (unlike mine) are not reading this. Tell us about your first experience with alcohol IF it was in college like the students in this study. Let the college students of tomorrow learn from your collective experience