Nondrinkers on Campus

Over the fall semester in my journalism class at UW-Madison, I was able to explore a topic I have always been incredibly passionate about: the choice to  drink and what it is like to be a non-drinker at a school that celebrates alcohol culture.

We were allowed to choose any topic that was in some way connected to UW-Madison and investigate and learn more about. And for me, this topic was a no-brainer. While I spent many long hours working on this project, interviewing people, writing stories and working with different storytelling mediums, I ultimately produced a final website that I am incredibly proud of that encapsulates my entire project.

As a nondrinker myself, I don’t know many other people that choose not to drink at UW-Madison as well. This project pushed me to reach out to others that I didn’t know beforehand who also don’t drink. Learning about why they each made the decision not to drink was very eye-opening, as each person had their own reasons as to why they don’t drink. I had amazing conversations with each individual featured on my website and really do not feel that I had enough space to tell their stories. This was one project where I really hated having word limits as not only could those who I interviewed talk about this subject forever, but so can I.

I have always felt that many stories written about UW-Madison’s drinking culture focus on those who choose to drink and UW’s draw as the top party school in the country (thank you Princeton Review), and seem to leave out another population of students: those who choose not to drink.

Last semester, I ran across two articles also written by students attending UW-Madison who wrote about being non-drinking students at Wisconsin. I loved both pieces written by Jonah Beleckis and Jenny Recktenwald and was able to talk with both of them for my story. I encourage you to read both of their great columns here:

Jonah Beleckis: Letter to the editor: UW-Madison’s alcohol culture alienates non-drinkers

Jenny Recktenwald: Believe it or not, I don’t need alcohol to have fun

I really hope you take the time to look through my website and hear more about their stories, as well as the other individuals’ incredible stories that I was able to learn more about, as this is something that I’m really proud of and invested a lot of time in this past semester. I love talking about this topic (as you will probably see) so feel free to reach out to me if you want to talk further about it!

You can find my website at

Jonah Beleckis’ letter to the editor


I stumbled upon Jonah Beleckis’ column “Letter to the editor: UW-Madison’s alcohol culture alienates non-drinkers” last spring while scheduling my posts for the Daily Cardinal’s Twitter account. As a member of the social media team, I would often times simply skim through the articles and quickly move on to create my caption. This article stopped me in my tracks.

“Hello, my name is Jonah.”

Beleckis hooked me from his opening line, pushing me to read further as if the title of the column itself had not already peaked my interest.

As a college student who has never had a sip of alcohol in my life, it is often difficult for me to find voices on campus that see things from the same lense as I do. Because of this, Beleckis’ column really connected with me. His experience as a student at UW-Madison who is a non-drinker is different from my own of course, but I relate to many of the situations that he discusses.

Beleckis recalls times where professors would make jokes about weekend antics, insinuating alcohol consumption, or times where he found himself standing in a packed Camp Randall crowd listening to the chants of “We! Want! More! Beer!” coming from the students around him. These are all common occurrences that most students on campus have experienced and can relate to. Few can attest to being uncomfortable with the casualness in which behavior involving alcohol is tossed around on the UW-Campus. Like Jonah, I know this feeling and relate.

Jonah really made me question UW-Madison’s drinking culture when he told the story of the first party he attended freshman year. He went to a house party where a cup of wop or beer or “whatever” was $5, the usual entrance fee on campus.

“My friend and I weren’t drinking, and after we informed the makeshift bouncer, he scoffed as if his bravado were up to peer review and asked me, ‘Why would you come to a house party and not drink?’ I bit my tongue and paid for an empty cup. We all make sacrifices to be accepted, right?”

Jonah’s final line from this paragraph, “We all make sacrifices to be accepted, right?” really stuck with me. No matter if you are a non-drinker or not, there are times in every person’s life where decisions are made in order to be accepted or fit the norm. He challenges the reader here to relate to his piece, whether they consume alcohol or not, and continue to read on.

To test the reader’s views on UW-Madison’s drinking culture even more, Beleckis provides statistics on binge-drinking specific to UW-Madison from Reonda Washington, the University Health Services Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Coordinator. One of the most alarming facts from Washington that Beleckis chooses to highlight, is that fifty percent of UW-Madison’s undergrads are considered “high-risk drinkers.”

This sounds fine, until Beleckis informs the reader that other UW-System schools reported 35 percent and that the national average was 36 percent. That puts in perspective how extreme UW-Madison’s drinking culture is compared to other universities.

I wish that he had provided more statistics on students that drink on campus versus those who do not. At the same time, I understand that there is most likely a lack of data on this subject but it would have been interesting to see more data on students that choose not to drink in his article.

Beleckis leaves a lasting impression when he encourages his readers to respect each other’s limits and differences.

“I’ve said no to a drink many more times than I’ve Jumped Around. I believe there are others on this campus who choose to say no, who might even have a harder time saying no.”
Through this column, Beleckis gives a voice to others on campus that are in the same or a similar situation as he is. He reminds those who struggle, or who feel isolated, that they are not alone on campus. Because of this, he makes it a personal and difficult article for one to forget.

Jonah Beleckis’ original article can be found here: 

This blog post was original published on as an assignment for Journalism 202 at UW-Madison.