To many Americans, the word “college” summons images of football games, parties and binge drinking. Although the University of Portland does not have a football team, Friday nights here look like Friday nights at any other college campus. Students gather in dormitories, retrieving illicit alcohol from hiding places. Groups stroll through poorly-lit streets, hunting for parties to crash. Music blares from open doors, clashing with sound waves from other house parties. The cacophony will soon irritate neighbors enough to make them call the police. When the parties get shut down, more hordes of students will swarm the streets, bouncing from one house to the next, until deciding to call it quits and head home.
Such a scene is indicative of the culture of many college campuses. With newfound freedom and less supervision, students begin to experiment with substances previously forbidden to them. But while the media often focuses on the negative consequences of experimentation, many students find that freedom in college can bring rewards as well.
Junior Haylie Gisi, for example, has experimented with alcohol, and has found that this has come with a range of consequences.
“I think it’s caused tension in relationships, both friendship and romantic,” she said.
But in the same way that experimentation has built a wedge in her relationships, Gisi also believes the risk-taking has built a sense of community between her and those she has shared those experiences with.
“In the same way that it can cause tension, it can also strengthen relationships and bonds,” Gisi said.
Does she think college itself has caused these consequences? Not really.
“I wouldn’t say my personality has changed, my experimental nature,” Gisi said. “I just have more access.”
When it comes to experimentation, alcohol and drugs are not the only ways students can branch out. A myriad of opportunities await students when they come to college. They find they can take risks in many different ways. For many students, this means taking on a challenge.
For junior Andy Holstrom, deciding whether to fish or cut bait in a class where he was not sure whether he would earn a decent grade was a gamble he had to make. Holstrom decided to place his bets on staying in the class.
“It was worth the risk, because I passed the class,” Holstrom said.
Other students like senior Becca Mion faced similar successes with risky decisions. For Mion, though, it was not a decent grade she wanted, but a chance to pursue her passions. A psychology major, Mion feared regretting minoring in English rather than neuroscience. One would be a chance to study something she loved, while the other would offer practical support to her future career. In the end, Mion chose English, and believes that decision paid off.
“I became such a better writer, learned how to critically think more, and I feel like I have just a more well-rounded education,” she said.
In areas outside of academics, students have made decisions that have also influenced their future. For one student, the very decision to attend UP was a risk.
“A big risk for me was coming up here to begin with because I come from a very tight-knit family in California,” junior Ana Lasich said.
Lasich’s two older sisters both went to colleges in the surrounding area of Lasich’s hometown, making Lasich’s move to Portland all the more surprising. But Lasich said her decision to come here was worth the risk, because she has made new friends, one of whom was sitting right next to her as she was telling her story.
But just as much as risk can be defined as taking on a challenge, some students saw risk as turning away from something.
Senior Natalie Cawker’s decision to not apply to medical school is one such example.
“I’m risking being unemployed forever, but it’s fine,” she said, laughing.
Cawker’s parents were pushing her to apply to medical school, but after careful thought, she decided to hold off on her dream of becoming a doctor. She decided her junior year to not take the MCAT, and to forego medical school applications in favor of building up her repertoire.
“I’m trying to bolster my resume and get to the point where I feel like I’m a really good applicant,” she said.
Personal choices to abstain from something can also be a risk. This was the case for junior Sydnee Richardson, who decided when she entered college that she would take some more time for herself instead of feeling obligated to hang out with friends at every opportunity. According to Richardson, the reward for this choice has been forming deeper relationships.
“I don’t feel as obligated anymore to hang out with people just because I feel like I have to hang out with them. I do it because I want to,” she said.
Richardson echoed a sentiment that many college students feel: that their taking risks was a form of independence, another step on the road to the adulthood that quickly approaches at the end of their four years here.
For a multimedia exploration into risk culture, check out this Storify: https://storify.com/emilyclarebiggs/new-story-553ef651b3a29c8604e66c80