Last week’s Record editorial suggesting that the college lobby the legislature to lower the drinking age to 18 is both shortsighted and dangerous. In effect, the Record argument seeks to ensure the safety of the student body. However, the entire idea of lowering the drinking age rests upon a shaky foundation and has only a limited goal in mind. Both of these factors work against the proposal.
The foundation behind the argument is simple: enforcing the 21-year-old drinking age is harmful, as it will drive underage drinking “behind closed doors.” This argument has been used by the administration to justify its laissez-faire attitude, and by the JAs, who believe any further restrictions on underage drinking will create safety problems. The premise that “closed door” drinking is more harmful than public drinking is flawed. Students do not chug multiple beers in the comfort of their own room, they don’t perform keg stands by themselves, and if an underage student chooses to pre-party before going out, he already has some idea of his tolerance level.
Further, when students choose to act in this manner (namely, drinking by themselves or in the company of a few friends), they do so knowing they must be responsible for their own actions. This is not the case in a large social situation where many people may be engaged in a drinking game that encourages binge behavior and abdicates personal responsibility. In many games, another student chooses a person who must drink; this peer encouragement is the most dangerous behavior, as a stranger has no idea of another student’s tolerance level.
The sad truth is that if a student were to drink himself to death in their own room, he would be wholly responsible for his own actions (along with the person who provided him with the alcohol) and nothing could be done. It is not the College’s responsibility to protect students from themselves. It is, however, considering the dollars that pay for each student’s education, the college’s responsibility to protect students against other students. The College should not tolerate JAs who are only to eager to help their freshmen get drunk in the name of “having a good time.” Neither should it condone large parties where alcohol is served to underage students. The reason parties are not allowed in the quad is to discourage underage drinking. Such a policy certainly doesn’t encourage unsafe drinking.
Though the premise behind the proposal to lower the drinking age is flawed, its goal is not. Keeping all the students safe on campus is a laudable goal, and discouraging alcohol abuse is something the college should be behind. If the college were to lobby to lower the age, though, it would only be pushing its own responsibilities aside in the name of a cleaner bureaucracy.
Certainly, lowering the drinking age would make planning parties, finding hosts and organizing events much easier. Yet it would only continue the administration’s current trend towards denying all responsibility in student’s lives. Currently, the host system functions so that if underage drinking occurs, the hosts and peer monitors may be blamed while the college goes scot-free. Likewise, if police officers accompany security on walkthroughs, the College can deny that Security must prevent underage drinking (that’s what the cops are for) and again avoid responsibility.
Yet what is Security for, if it is not primarily composed of law enforcement officers? Why do many of our parents pay more than $30,000 a year to the College if it only prioritizes avoiding litigation? Williams must recognize that part of the exchange parents agree to when writing tuition checks is that their sons and daughters will be in a safe environment. To keep passing the buck on an issue like this, to the students or the local police, is immoral and cowardly.
The proposal only echoes this irresponsible stance, by claiming that the hassles of the 21-year-old drinking age are supported only by people “for reasons of policy, if at all.” Nothing else could possibly obscure a more black and white issue. If the drinking age is lowered, the problem at the high school level will increase dramatically.
By placing alcohol, a far more fatality-related substance than many illegal drugs at the moment, in the hands of young men and women, this policy would hurt the nation’s youth. Whether it be drunk drivers or the dangers of alcohol poisoning, there are numerous reasons to condemn letting high schoolers have easier access to alcohol. Having seen teenagers almost dead in my local intensive care units, I can’t support enabling greater access to alcohol.
America is a society dominated by binge behaviors, whether they be eating, drinking or material pursuits. To think that lowering the drinking age would result in a more Euro-centric form of behavior is naive and underestimates the amount of time and energy alcohol distributors have spent to make their product a “necessary” part of collegiate life. We are a nation united, under Busch and Coors, to encouraging consumption of alcohol. It all returns to a notion of responsibility. If it pushes to lower the drinking age to 18, the College in effect says it should not be responsible for providing a safe environment for students.
Repealing the drinking age altogether would even have a more positive effect upon students than lowering it to a limit, because it would force parents and educators to work together to help teach students about the dangers of alcohol. With no drinking age, it might be possible to conceive of a cultural change where Americans learned not to binge. Under our current system, we assume kids don’t need to learn about alcohol abuse until they can legally purchase beer and spirits. Such an abdication would be legitimate if the age were actually enforced by the college, through re-education of JAs and Security.
Clearly, though, the solution to the drinking problem is more education, rigid enforcement of the current law, or a complete repeal of any drinking age, rather than a half-step. To compromise between 21 and zero is to avoid having to make a tough choice as to how America should treat its children. Either we must affirm our Puritanical tendencies, or our Continental ones, but to give impassioned pleas to allow underage students to drink is to waste one’s breath.