Paul L. Caron

Saturday, February 9, 2019

How Scholars Who Don’t Drink Navigate The Conference Social Scene

Chronicle of Higher Education, ‘A Minefield’: How Scholars Who Don’t Drink Navigate the Conference Social Scene:

At academic conferences, like those put on by the AHA and the Modern Language Association, which were held in Chicago last week, drinking is a social norm. Cash bars and open bars proliferate. Each year the history association holds a cocktail-naming contest. (This year's winners were "More of a Comment Than a Question" and "The Haymarket Rye-It.") There's collegial drinking among old pals. There's commiserative drinking among job-hunting Ph.D.s. And there's tactical drinking as part of the networking that happens after, or sometimes during, regular conference hours.

But for ... scholars who don't drink, the bar isn't the place to make lasting professional connections. These scholars don't want everyone to become teetotalers, or for conferences to ban alcohol altogether. They just want to be able to tackle the social labors of being an academic without the expectation to imbibe.

At a conference last year, Sharrona H. Pearl heard about a scholar who disappeared during the meeting. That person had struggled with sobriety and was overwhelmed by the ubiquity of alcohol there, recalled Pearl, a special dean's research scholar in communications at the University of Pennsylvania. ...

Lisa Rose Lamson doesn't think that by avoiding alcohol, she will be excluded from her professional community. It's not that her sobriety makes those connections unattainable, she said.

But she's had to get better at approaching people at the end of conference panels rather than at the hotel bar. She has to plan ahead for social functions. Buddies fetch nonalcoholic drinks so she doesn't have to approach the bar herself.

Still, she said, being sober is a barrier to full participation in academic conferences. So much of academe is networking. And so much of that, she said, happens over a drink she can't have, at a table she can't sit at, in a room she can't enter.

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How do such smart communication professionals think they *need* booze to express themselves half as well as their chatty secretaries? Or, um, confident construction workers?

And why not spark diverse conversation at some "safe space listening sessions" with those of us who don't or can't drink? (Nice thinking outside the bar, Ms. Lamson!)

Public outreach for a good cause also works wonders on social awkwardness. I chose my pro-freedom, pro-life local Republican Committee. Funny thing is, beverage based networking just doesn't seem that important anymore...

Posted by: Anand Desai | Feb 9, 2019 10:05:27 AM