The infamous Vassar spring time hullabaloo where free beers are given out in the name of Brewer Pride to those over 21, where some students wake up at 8 a.m. to start out their day early with a shot of alcohol, while others still experiment with illicit substances: Founder’s Day. However, not all students will choose to partake in the tradition of consuming alcohol or other drugs this Saturday.
Sarah Holden ’15 describes why she chose not to participate in this consumption. She wrote in an emailed statement, “I had two primary reasons. The first was that last year I was a Wellness Student Fellow. I had some freshmen who were choosing not to drink, and I stayed sober both to support them, and also to be able to be capable of helping any freshmen who chose to drink and had too much.”
Another student, Richa Gautam ’16, decided to buckle down with her school work since finals were right around the corner. She said, “I had a lot of work and I didn’t think that being high or intoxicated would be productive, especially at the end of the year.”
One of the other students who remained sober last year, Paige Benson ’16, didn’t have the most memorable first Founder’s Day. “It was okay, but it was pretty boring. I just went to Ballantine and went on the rides for a bit and hung out on the fields, but it just got pretty boring pretty fast,” she said.
Among the several carnival rides and food options that Vassar advertises on its Founder’s Day website, the school also provides a Health and Wellness tent for other-option programming on the day of the event.
This year’s wellness tent will have a dino photobooth, dino stencil bandana station, and other free essentials like food, lemonade and sunscreen.
Benson’s response to last year’s wellness tent was less than enthusiastic. “It had different things to do but they weren’t exactly interesting things particularly. It wasn’t really exciting, they had like lollipops to give out,” she said.
Although the tent is meant to serve as an inclusionary activity, not everyone feels this way.
“For me, just having the wellness tent felt very isolating, and so it felt like there was just this one thing to do, when all around you there were lots of other things that you couldn’t do. I could technically be doing them but they’re not necessarily for me because I’m not drinking and its not as fun without the alcohol,” added Benson.
Others meanwhile felt that the wellness tent helped take the focus off of drinking. Holden also wrote, “I actually think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the fact that there are separate activities for the sober and non-sober people on Founder’s Day. The main thing coming to mind is the wellness tent.”
Other than the wellness tent, Vassar makes a conscious effort to provide its students with several different options on the big day. An annual Founder’s Day 5k Fun Run, sponsored by RunVassar, VC track and the Office of Health Ed, starts at 10 a.m. on Ballantine fields, the same place where the tents, music and food will be.
The Office of Health Education also converts the Villard Room to a chill space from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. that day. It’s a substance-free zone for students who either want a break from the field activities or who want to avoid the fields altogether, and its activities this year will include a bouncy obstacle course, food and board games.
In an emailed statement, Renee Pabst from the Office of Health Education said, “We have students who do not choose to participate in Founder’s Day for a variety of reasons, so we want to make sure they know there are other viable and fun options.”
The overall experience of Founder’s Day however really just depends on different factors. Holden wrote, “I don’t think it was that different from most other people’s experiences. I went out to the field, went on the rides, listened to the music, got some food, saw the fireworks. I spent the whole time with friends, we had a great time. I think it was just as much fun as if I had chosen to drink.”
Gautum added, “What I’ve heard from other people is the experience is much better intoxicated, like eating the food and going on the rides is much more fun. However, I feel like wellness tent has just as interesting things as the other tents that aren’t selling drinks so I had an overall good experience.”
Benson attributes her experience to factors outside the wellness tent. “I think it depends a lot on the different groups you’re a part of, a lot of groups do different things…The people I was with weren’t super into it, so it was really the atmosphere that I was in. We weren’t really doing anything fun there,” she said.
Regardless of what people choose to do, the decision to drink is theirs alone. Holden said, “I think there were some people who were confused about why I chose not to drink, but it wasn’t a negative judgment, just lack of understanding. However, I don’t think I felt excluded from any events, nor did I feel pressured into drinking.”
Emily Webb ‘16 also hopes her peers will respect anyone’s decision to remain sober this Saturday. She said, “I’m not saying I’m in favor of scrapping Founder’s Day and everything it stands for, but I think that people should be aware that there’s a degree of societal pressure to drink on that day.”
For others, the lack of alcohol and drugs doesn’t make a difference. Holden stated, “Founder’s Day is supposed to be a celebration for the whole school, where everyone comes together, and a personal choice about drinking should not change that.”