A university is planning to ban the sale of alcohol in parts of the campus because some Muslim students believe it is “evil and immoral”.
Prof Malcolm Gillies of London Metropolitan University said he wants to create alcohol free areas on campus out of “cultural sensitivity”. About a fifth of students at the university come from Muslim families – many of them young women from traditional homes.
For many of them, the drinking culture among students marred rather than heightened their student experience, he said. Prof Gillies, an eminent Australian music scholar, said that he was consulting with staff and students about creating alcohol-free areas on the universty’s two campuses as part of a major redesign.
It is expected that the informal dry areas will be created within the next six months. His comments were welcomed by anti-alcoholism campaigners and the Methodist Church, which has a strong tradition of campaigning against excessive drinking. Prof Gillies detailed his plans during a discussion on how to accommodate minorities at a national conference for university officials earlier this month. Although he himself drinks, he said that he was “not a great fan” of alcohol on campus and felt that the practice could be seen to be “playing to particular parts of or society”.
Prof Gillies explained: “There are students who do come from a tradition that stays alcohol is evil and they need to feel that they have a place at London Metropolitan University. “They don’t have to feel that this is an alcoholic environment, we are an educational environment, we are not seeking to push particular cultural or gastronomic values, we meet the needs of our students as they actually are.” He also said that his experience showed that, contrary to popular perceptions, many students – including Muslims – are much more conservative than those a generation ago.
He said that as a result the university was also more cautious in its approach to portraying issues such as sex. “The view that students somehow are riotous and somehow libidinous isn’t necessarily the case,” he said. “In many ways students are far more conservative than they were 30 or 40 years ago.” He also told the Times Higher Education: “It’s a negative experience – in fact an immoral experience – for a high percentage of our students.” “And given that around our campuses you have at least half a dozen pubs within 200 metres, I can’t see there is such a pressing reason to be cross-subsidising a student activity which is essentially the selling of alcohol.”
Paul Morrison, Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church, welcomed the idea of alcohol free areas. “We think that local communities should be able to choose how alcohol is consumed in their areas because in some places it is perfectly acceptable but in other places it is antisocial,” he said. “If there is a consensus among a local community to provide alcohol-free areas then we support that.”
Emily Robinson, Director of Campaigns at Alcohol Concern said: “The problem at the moment is that for a lot of people alcohol at university isn’t so much a choice as an expectation. Anything that will create a culture where people don’t feel forced to drink would be a great step forward.”
Chris Sorek, chief executive of alcohol education charity Drinkaware, said: “Student life is frequently portrayed in the media and popular culture as one big party. Despite the stereotypical image, not all students want to only have boozy memories of their university days”.
“It is important that universities provide support for students who don’t always want big nights out. Alternatives like alcohol free café spaces and cinemas give students a choice. And for those who choose to drink we recommend they eat a good meal before the night out, alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks and look after their mates which will all help to avoid a good night turning bad.”