Image Credit: Amy Mckee
You can be forgiven if you have read the headline and are confused. For a Sober Society, you would expect its founder and president to push forward the expected narrative of “don’t drink."
But Amy Mckee was keen to emphasise that the society was “not necessarily for those who don’t drink but is ideal for students who don’t want to be out drinking all the time.” In 2018, Amy started as an undergraduate at the University and set up the society, as she felt “nervous” and was not “totally confident being around drunk people”. The society’s main priority is “facilitating those spaces” where students do not feel pressurised to drink. Amy admitted that if students want to simply use events as a forum to meet other sober students then “that is completely fine.”
Coffee crawls in town and the Courtyard on West campus are where you are most likely to bump into Sober Society as a group. The society has 17 paying members, although Amy said that this figure usually rises to 30 members after the YUSU Freshers’ Fair. There are also many members who come along for the occasional event. Rather than trying to persuade members to attend every social event, Amy told Nouse that what was most important was helping “other people make that space for themselves.” Amy revealed that there “definitely is a stigma” towards those students who choose not to drink and spoke of past experiences where fellow students have started “acting strange.”
Amy admitted that some students found her decision not to drink “uncomfortable,” as they “think I’m judging them, which I am absolutely not.” For Amy, not drinking is a “personal choice” but there are members who don’t drink due to religious or medical reasons as well. In terms of tackling prejudice towards the lifestyle choice of not drinking, Amy suggested that younger members of society were generally supportive of people taking the personal decision not to drink. Instead, Amy suggested that most of the prejudice originates from the attitudes of the “older generation.”
The society has a “diverse” membership and is a “unique society” in attracting “all sorts of people.” In the past, the society has collaborated with a wide range of societies, including Social Self-Improvement Society, Flat Earth Society and Knitting and Crochet Society. The society also connects with other student-led sober societies nationwide through social media. Their previous collaboration with Flat Earth Society was singled out as “particularly fun.” Cocktail Society are still yet to respond to Amy’s invitation to join a ‘Mocktail/Cocktail night’. A persistent difficulty the society encounters is distancing itself from the stereotype that only boring people choose to be sober.
During the day, Amy tells us that York is a “really good place to be sober”, as there is numerous coffee and tea shops to visit. Going out in York at night is problematic for the Sober Society, as Amy told us that the clubs in York can at times feel very “small, cramped and overwhelming”. As a sober student, Freshers week can feel like a daunting experience, as Amy acknowledged that students expect a “drinking culture” when they first come to university. The events on offer for sober students can appear limited at first especially if playing board games does not appeal.
Despite Amy highlighting that a lot of the ‘sober’ events “have drinking involved”, she accepted that the colleges had made progress in recent years and events for sober students were “better in the last few years.” Amy personally prefers to visit York’s “great pubs”, as she says that many offer a “really good selection of alcoholic drinks.” If sober students are finding themselves frequently frustrated with York’s club scene then Amy advises making the trip to Newcastle, as there she “felt more comfortable not drinking.”
Though Amy warned students to still invite their sober friends out to clubs, as it provides them with another option. A no alcohol policy is enforced at most events, but there are occasions when the society collaborates with drinkers. If you are “sober we are not saying you have to be with us, but there is always room for you” insisted Amy. Joining the Society only costs £5 and Amy welcomes any new or current students to come along to their weekly events.
YUSU’s Activites Officer Sophie Kelly stated that: "This year YUSU have brought back the iconic Freshers’ Festival! Although there will be bars at this event, there will be various activities which mean it is inclusive to students who don’t drink alcohol. This is a sold out event and we’re all so looking forward to it! We also host the Comedy Night which is a more relaxed event and a chance to have a giggle at the end of Freshers’ Week."
This is the day after Freshers’ Fair, which is one of the biggest YUSU events of the year and provides students with the chance to meet like minded people and to find lots of amazing opportunities that interest them. Our amazing Part Time Officers have also been hosting some fantastic events, including a crafting event for international students. I would also recommend a visit to our unlicensed venue, The Kitchen.