Not-so-fresh freshers

— Tamsin Bickley contributed with this report

The freshers have arrived and settled. Every September, in a gut-wrenching mix of nerves, excitement and apprehension, thousands of young people begin the same monumental adventure.

They lug bags of belongings up stairs to unfamiliar new homes, they tearfully and fearfully wave goodbye to their loved ones, and then they arrange their new books and stationery on desks they’re sure that many a night will be spent at, studying hard, toiling away at an essay until it is perfect.

From all walks of life, freshers are a diverse group, a melting-pot of different classes, colours and creeds. However, they all share a thirst for knowledge and an ambition to succeed.

So why, once “Freshers’ Week” is truly under way, do the young scholars’ attitudes and behaviour change so drastically?

Eighteen-year-old Amy Roddie, a film, TV and journalism student at the University of Lincoln, said her freshers experience was “absolutely mental”.

“I arrived at university really shy. I’d never been properly drunk, smoked a cigarette or anything like that; I was there to study.

“Never in a million years would I have guessed that at the end of the week I’d be rolling my own fags and had been getting so hammered that one night I actually threw up in my handbag,” she says.

Amy’s experience isn’t unusual. Freshers’ Week and binge drinking almost always go hand-in-hand. What starts out as a laugh can often turn freshers into completely different people – people who, when they wake up with their headaches and dry mouths, they are ashamed of.

Fresher's Week sees new students taking part in activities they would never have dreamt of before. Photo: Anneka James

Take Phillip Laing, a nineteen-year-old sports technology student at Sheffield Hallam University. During the annual freshers-focused event “Carnage”, a photo was taken showing Laing, wearing his Carnage UK t-shirt, urinating on a war memorial.

Laing is by no means an ill-educated member of Britain’s underclass, he is a private-school educated young man described by the mitigation of the court case as being “an extremely bright lad” with no previous convictions.

It was only when Laing became a fresher, enticed by the culture of intoxication and debauchery, seduced by offers of £1 drinks on pub-crawls created for students, that he became a public hate-figure, a convicted criminal.

This heavy drinking doesn’t only lead to a sore head and lighter wallet, though. After a night hitting the bottle, many freshers find themselves regretting where they wake up the next morning.

Before coming to university Louise*, a fine art student, would never have contemplated having a one-night stand: “Back home I had a rule not to sleep with anyone I wasn’t in a relationship with, mostly because I was worried I’d be called a slag,” she says.

But the 18-year-old says that in Freshers’ Week, all that changed: “It was totally different, everyone’s ethics and whatever went out the window.

“I had two one-night stands that week. It was so liberating to just be able to do what you want and no-one think badly of you,” she says.

Like Louise, many freshers enjoy the sexual liberation that comes with their new-found freedom. However, this isn’t without it’s dangers. Namely the increased risk of contracting STI’s and unwanted pregnancies.

One survey found that 50% of students have indulged in unprotected sex, making STIs a very real risk at university.

The risk is even higher for freshers, as the rates of regular binge-drinking are much higher in this demographic, which means they are less likely to remember to practice safe sex when they are drunk.

Risky behaviour that many freshers indulge in usually doesn’t last to the same extent throughout their time at university. Many of these students emerge from the intoxicated daze that is their time as a fresher, and into the blinding realisation that they have assignments to begin.

Once the novelty of their freedom wears off, most will rush to catch up on missed work, and the lights of the library will once again burn well into the night. The freshers have arrived.

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