Sophomore Ripsime Biyazyan, Office of Student Life (OSL) Programming Assistant and Diplomacy and World Affairs (DWA) major, wants to bring hookah to campus. Biyazyan disseminated a survey through the student email digest titled, “WANT HOOKAH ON CAMPUS?” in late March to gauge student interest in having an on-campus trivia night with hookah.
The results show that out of 236 respondents, 59 percent said they enjoyed hookah, and 64 percent said they would attend a OSL-sponsored trivia night with hookah.
The use of hookah, an instrument for vaporizing and smoking flavored tobacco, is traditionally a social activity in Eurasian and North African cultures for family and community bonding, but it has recently become popular in campus culture around the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Biyazyan, who grew up using hookah with her family as part of their Armenian cultural traditions, proposed adding hookah to OSL-sponsored trivia nights in late April.
“Recently, there hasn’t been much attendance to trivia nights, so I wanted to make it more appealing for the students by renting out hookahs for the trivia teams to smoke during the competition,” Biyazyan said.
Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) and OSL are looking for social events to engage the student body after a year-long moratorium on school-wide dances was implemented last October.
“There has been a lot of tension since the moratorium on dances,” ASOC Senator and DWA major Chris Weeks (sophomore) said.
The high turnout for on-campus OSL pub nights inspired Biyazyan’s proposal.
According to Director of Student Life and Assistant Dean of Students Tamara Rice, OSL strives to give its programming assistants every opportunity to come up with creative ideas. Rice wanted to explore student reactions to the presence of hookah on campus and whether the social benefits of hookah are worth the negative health effects.
“I don’t want to put on an event that would conflict with the principles of another office, like Emmons,” Rice said.
Rice advised Biyazyan to discuss the possibility of bringing hookah to campus with the Student Wellness Advisory Council (SWAC), a student committee that provides recommendations for how to best meet student health needs on campus. Rice said that if SWAC were to support a hookah night, she would be more likely to approve the event. According to SWAC co-chairs biochemistry major Francis Kim (junior) and biology major Seth Cohen (junior), SWAC will not support the use of hookah on the basis of student health.
“Students are often misinformed about the health effects of hookah,” Kim said.
Kim cited a CDC report stating that hookah involves longer exposure to a greater number of cancer-causing chemicals and trace metals than cigarettes. According to Biyazyan, the SWAC co-chairs dismissed the poll results because 21 percent of the respondents were against hookah, and there were only 236 respondents.
“The goal of SWAC is to promote each student’s health and well being, so it’s hard to support something that is detrimental to people and those around them,” Cohen said.
Weeks countered that the existence of pub nights on campus validates the idea of bringing hookah to campus. Biyazyan also argues that it would be hypocritical for OSL to deny a hookah night.
“The culture around hookah is not based on binging [as with] alcohol. Hookah is a leisurely social thing,” Biyazyan said.
According to Rice, pub nights are acceptable because the consumption of alcohol is only unhealthy in large doses.
“With smoking, one puff is inherently unhealthy,” Rice said.
Biyazyan is currently awaiting approval from Rice. If granted permission, Biyazyan plans to hold a trivia night with a DJ and about 20 hookahs of varying flavors. OSL would host hookah nights twice per semester in order to follow the same limitations as pub nights. Similar to the alcohol awareness events before pub nights, Biyazyan said she would plan a hookah awareness display in the Quad.
If Rice does not approve hookah at OSL-sponsored events, Biyazyan said she could potentially host a hookah event through Occidental’s Armenian Students’ Association. According to Biyazyan, both the Muslim and Armenian Students’ Associations have hosted hookah nights at UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UCLA.