But this year, photos that caused viral outrage included a young college man using a shark to pierce a can before slurping up the beer. (Later, an apologetic post from a Brazilian international student alleged that the shark was humanely caught and returned to the ocean after the photo was snapped.)
Animal rights advocates were not impressed. Neither was the general public.
"This is disgusting!! There is clearly a hook and line in its mouth, did you kill this shark just so you could open a [expletive] beer in its mouth? What the hell is wrong with you?" asked hannahs427 on the Instagram post.
"Have some respect for life, you stupid 'people.'" said beatlechick1, echoing many comments responding to the video.
Many comments from young college men suggested that critics were overreacting.
"I can admit that it’s in relative poor taste, but it’s not so bad that it deserves all this attention, or even close to it," wrote Dillon Cheverere on totalfratmove.com. The website features bros, babes and beer and includes a story headlined, "Quit Picking Up Trash On Spring Break, Nerds," after the Miami Beach Police tweeted a thank you students who cleaned up the beach.
Another spring break post that went viral showed a young man pouring alcohol into a starfish before drinking from it.
Alcohol reduces inhibition and alcohol abuse is not uncommon during spring break, according to Project Know, an organization that provides addiction and alcohol abuse treatment. Close to 40 percent of college students travel each year to spring break venues like Florida beach cities, South Padre Island in Texas, and a number of tropical sites in Mexico and the Caribbean, spending more than $1 billion each season, it says.
Most return to their U.S. colleges and universities refreshed and ready to resume their studies, but alcohol-related incidents ruin the experience for many.
A study by the American College of Health found that during spring break the average male reported consuming 18 drinks a day and the average woman drank 10. Such consumption can lead to alcohol poisoning as well as fatal or injurious accidents, assaults, sexual abuses and other problems.
Dr. Eric Collins, a psychiatrist in Connecticut who specializes in substance abuse says binge drinking has become “extremely dangerous.” Binge drinking is defined for males as five drinks within a two-hour period; it’s four drinks for women.
Spring break can be traced back a couple of hundred years to European schools that allowed time off during the Christian celebration of Easter. In the mid-1930s it became associated with a break from winter when students from some colleges and universities began traveling to beaches in Florida to escape from studying.
It was a best-selling book and popular movie in 1960, “Where the Boys Are,” that led to a massive flow of spring breakers southward to Fort Lauderdale. Before the book and movie, the beach resort north of Miami had drawn only a few thousand students for spring break. Afterward, the city was overwhelmed with more than 50,000 visitors for that week.
But certainly not all students participate in beach-and-beer fiestas. Many students spend their break with family or work on community service projects. Samantha Giacobozzi is executive director of Break Away, a non-profit organization that promotes alternative spring break programs to the beach resort parties.
She says 22,000 students from 158 schools took part in Break Away alternative ventures last year.
Career advisors say that such charitable projects can boost a student’s resume and make them more attractive to potential employers. But Giacobozzi says most participants do not approach the experience with that in mind.
“For the most part, the students we work with are not doing it to enhance their resumes,” she says. “It is about understanding community in a deeper way and understanding the world in a different way and being connected to something bigger than themselves."
Giacobozzi says social justice is a component of the programs. She says financial aid is available to students who cannot afford to pay.
“We believe alternative breaks can be a catalyst experience for individuals to move along the path of active citizenship, where community becomes an active priority in your life choices,” Giacobozzi said.
Although she concedes that the party venues still attract far larger numbers of students for spring break, she says the alternative programs are growing steadily in numbers each year.
This year’s most popular destination for college students may have been Orlando, Florida, based on four million travel plans handled by Allianz Global Assistance. The second most popular domestic destination was Las Vegas, Nevada. The two top foreign destinations were Cancun and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
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