‘Newman’s Day’ stirs up campus alcohol debate

It’s an annual underground tradition in which some students challenge themselves to drink 24 beers in 24 hours.

Borough plans to target young campus drinkers
By: Jordan Paul Amadio
   As the clock struck 10 on Wednesday morning, a mixed crowd of sleepy and eager young faces filed into Princeton University’s Friend Center auditorium, just in time for their practical ethics class. As the professor began his lecture on animal rights and environmentalist theory, a number of students seemed to prefer a two-fisted learning technique: pen in one hand, beer in the other.
   Drinking in class, however, is not an everyday occurrence on campus. Students tend to reserve the practice for special occasions only.
   Wednesday marked "Newman’s Day" at Princeton, an annual underground tradition in which some students challenge themselves to drink 24 beers in 24 hours. The unofficial observance, though forbidden by the university as a dangerous drinking game, enjoys widespread notoriety on campus. Several of the undergraduate eating clubs even sponsored midday parties in honor of the event.
   "You have to attend all your classes while doing it, and you can’t pass out, take naps, or vomit," explained one sophomore, sipping his beer from a coffee mug during class. "My hall mate and I got up at 8 a.m. this morning and started chugging beers before breakfast."
   Administrators, responding to concerns about the number of alcohol-related cases at the campus health center and the possible dangers of student alcohol abuse, have not taken such activities lightly.
   Hillary Herbold, dean of Rockefeller College, one of Princeton’s five residential colleges, supervises freshmen and sophomores.
   "If it comes to light that a student has been participating in Newman’s Day drinking, disciplinary sanctions may follow," Dean Herbold wrote in an e-mail. "Students are routinely disciplined for participating in drinking games."
   The support for binge drinking represented by activities like Newman’s Day is far from universal on campus, however.
   Freshman Brian Muegge, whose campaign for more substance-free dormitories currently is being reviewed by the university, is among those who believe Princeton is far from immune to alcohol problems.
   "About 45 to 46 percent of Princeton students binge drink, which is on a par with the national average," he said, referring to a recent New York Times article detailing the prevalence of alcohol abuse on college campuses. "I have definitely had issues with alcohol in the dorms."
   The most important thing from a student perspective, according to Mr. Muegge, is creating an environment where all are comfortable.
   "If someone chooses to drink, that’s their right, as long as it doesn’t affect others. But a lot of times, alcohol use tends to do just that," he said.
   Mr. Muegge praised current efforts to curb drinking at Princeton, citing programs like the Trustee Alcohol Initiative, which provides substance-free social options on campus.
   "I think the university administration is handling it very appropriately," he said. "The infrastructure is all in place, so the key is to figure out how to best implement it."
   As to why some Princetonians binge drink, however, Mr. Muegge admitted being able to offer only partial answers.
   "At Princeton, a lot of students drink according to the peer group they associate with, but it varies," he said. "I personally, for example, will never take part in Newman’s Day. I just hope that other people would use their best judgment when making their decisions."