Drinking alcohol is assumed to be such an integral part of college life that the question "do you drink?" refers almost exclusively to the infamous and controversial liquid. According to messages from the mass media, drinking is one of the primary pastimes of the 18-to-25-year-old demographic, even though nearly half of this age group is younger than the legal drinking age.
While I refuse to wax poetic on the morality of underage drinking, there is a litany of reasons that the act of drinking alcohol should be brought into the light of public discourse. Many people believe there would be far less drinking on college campuses if students were all legally allowed to drink. These people conjecture that the law has created an unhealthy attitude toward alcohol and created a desire for rebellion that would otherwise not exist on college campuses.
Recently, a movement known as the Amethyst Initiative (Google it) has begun to seek the signatures of university presidents and chancellors who are willing to publicly discuss the current policy regarding alcohol and drinking. There are several presidents of prominent and obscure universities (including an Ivy League school, so you know it's legit) who have already signed and committed to the debate surrounding these laws and the federal government's shady use of highway funding to bully state legislatures into submission. While this is not a direct call to lower the drinking age, a strong emphasis is placed on the need for discussion regarding underage drinking and drinking in general. "Twenty-one is not working," states the Web site of this initiative, and indeed there is a convincing argument to support this position.
Not surprisingly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving began to rally their middle-aged troops soon after the petition began this summer. Armed with plenty of scientific arguments supporting the drinking age, MADD has supported the drinking age and proclaimed its success in preventing drunk driving and teenage drunkenness. To this end, Laura Dean-Mooney, the president of MADD, called Americans to contact the signers of this petition and request that they remove themselves from the list. The New York Times reported on Aug. 22 that as a result, two university presidents removed their names while most likely muttering epithets under their breath. Since then, one name has been returned, but the name of Georgia Southwestern State University's president remains absent from the list.
In a childlike fit, grown people are scrambling to end the dialogue that only might call into question a law that doesn't even directly affect them. Ironically they need to mature in order to realize that the youth of today must eventually be allowed to do the same. The responsibility that guides adult life does not come from arbitrary law, but from the example of wise leadership and individual circumstances. It seems that MADD and other similar organizations would sacrifice candid conversation for the sake of naive comfort and personal peace.
It's a shame, because on the college campus there's a real need for this type of conversation to shed some light on the current state of alcohol consumption and reveal the true effects of a law that forces it underground. There is a two-faced culture that this law creates in the minds of university leaders and police officers who are forced to publicly demonize and punish what may privately be considered irresponsible and rebellious but not altogether wrong. There is no easy way to say, "I have been in your position," while incarcerating a student or writing them up for misconduct. I believe that more than any other motivation this imposed duplicity that has led the leaders of 129 universities and colleges to sign a petition criticizing the law that has placed them in the position of de facto enforcer. Indeed, I lament that our American culture has saddled institutions of higher learning with the responsibility of creating an environment suitable for rebellion, yet constrained enough to maintain order. It's ridiculous for any outsider to consider the drinking age effective from an external position while not considering the situation of the leaders with the burden of enforcing the law.
Surely President Edward Ayers has contemplated signing this petition and is prepared to defend his position for or against this initiative. Whether our university joins the growing list, I believe that our student body could use a new way to discuss this dilemma. We need a conversation that doesn't include the ridiculous line, "Don't drink alcohol! ... but when you do, this is how you can get away with it." When I'm an upperclassman, I don't want to have to hear the line, "You must register parties in your apartment, but if you don't here's how to get away with it." How have we become comfortable with such ridiculous guidelines? It's really hard to maintain a healthy respect for leaders holding this type of position on alcohol and yet I have heard it countless times from our school's leaders on various occasions.
This type of logic leaves students wondering which half of the conversation to pay attention to: The half that demonizes alcohol consumption or the one that all but assumes the presence of alcohol in each student's refrigerator. The two opinions would seem to be in opposition to each other, but are often spoken with the same breath, in the same speech. I think the drinking age prevents us from forming a middle ground that allows a discussion on the effects of alcohol while allowing students to choose for themselves whether they will choose to consume. The sooner college leaders are allowed to speak candidly about underage drinking the sooner we can move past this stalemate that has left most of us jaded and apathetic.
While I believe the drinking age should be reconsidered, part of me isn't convinced that a lower age would improve the drinking patterns of American youth. Americans have developed a unique form of irresponsible living and when it comes to alcohol, I can't imagine that the desire to binge or the decision to drink and drive would be removed along with the drinking age. The efforts made by these university and college leaders is a step in the right direction but a long-lasting solution would need to accomplish more than just shift the responsibility of policing the drinking onto other shoulders. If the law hasn't succeeded so far in preventing the presence of underaged drinking and rebellion then it's unrealistic to hope that it ever will.
While there is a responsibility on the side of our leadership, if we the students expect leaders to speak on our behalf, we must remember that there is nothing that forces us into a lifestyle that includes drinking. Did I just write that? Yep, there is nothing that says we have to rebel against the laws set to govern us, and quite honestly we're not always in the best position to make decisions that could potentially alter the course of our lives. If the drinking age were lowered today it would simply mean that the burden of responsibility would rest on a larger group of people with the legal right to consume alcohol. This is the same responsibility that countless students have shirked on a regular basis, and there is little within me to say that American youth would pull a complete 180 degree turn toward moderation if the drinking age were reduced. If you want to prove me wrong, then do so. Not only would it make this a healthier college campus but it would give much needed credibility to our student body as we claim the need for more freedoms regarding alcohol.
Contact staff writer Michael Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org
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