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lower drinking age to 18As the mother of two college students, I figure that the stories I hear about campus parties are just the tip of the iceberg. But if what I’m hearing is any indicator, that’s one heck of an iceberg.

Until I read Jeff Mandell’s Stanford Daily article titled, “Modern Manners: The national pastime,” I had assumed that the stories I was hearing were symptomatic of the schools my children attend or their participation in the Greek system. I’m sad to discover that I was wrong. The same stupid stuff is happening at Stanford. Kids are drinking to excess more than ever, and it’s often leading to further poor choices, or even worse, emergency medical intervention.

What first struck me about Jeff’s article were the words, “I lived in Arroyo freshman year.” I was a Resident Assistant (RA) in Soto, the dorm next to Jeff’s, for two years in the mid-’80’s. My room faced the street that is now the main conduit for the emergency vehicles Jeff says are now a frequent occurrence. In all my time as an RA, I don’t remember a single emergency vehicle on that street. Not for our dorm or any other. The only alcohol-related emergency I remember from all my years at Stanford was a rumor that someone wound up in the hospital after drinking Everclear-laced punch at our class orientation party.

Here’s why I think things are different now:

  1. The drinking age is 21. This became a federal law in the summer of 1984. For most of my time in college, my fellow students and I were either legal or “grandfathered in.”
  2. Dorm parties don’t provide alcohol. Today’s college students would probably be shocked to learn that in my day not only did RA’s not bust kids for alcohol consumption, but they actually provided the alcohol at parties. Students could drink alcohol in the open and close to home, so if things started getting out of hand, there was more likely to be someone with their best interests at heart who could take care of them before things got too bad.
  3. Hard liquor is more readily available. The main drink I remember on campus was beer. It was all people could usually afford. It takes a lot more beers to get drunk than it does hard liquor. Also, girls weren’t afraid to drink beer. I think today’s girls are more concerned that it’ll make them fat.
  4. A lack of EANABS (Equally Attractive Non-Alcoholic Beverages). When we held dorm parties, RA’s were required to provide tempting non-alcoholic alternatives for people who didn’t want to drink or who wanted to pace themselves. We actually took this seriously. I doubt this occurs behind closed doors or at non-university-sanctioned events.

Years ago, I read that many university presidents want a national discussion to consider changing the legal drinking age to 18 again. At the time, I didn’t understand why. After all, raising the drinking age has lowered the number of drunk driving fatalities, and why would you want to make it easier for college students to drink?

Now I agree with them. I think that we should seriously consider lowering the drinking age to 18.

I don’t say this lightly. I am not much of a drinker myself (1-2 glasses of wine a month, have never been drunk) and I’ve seen the effects of alcoholism on people I care about.

I think that if the law changed, there wouldn’t be a need to be as covert about alcohol consumption. I think that this would reduce the temptation to binge drink, and would allow drinking to occur in safer venues, under more watchful eyes. It would also allow schools to hold events where students could emulate safe drinking practices. And as a side note, I think it’s illogical that we will send someone off to war but not allow them the freedom to have a glass of beer. I’m not going so far as to say for sure that we should change the drinking age because I am not an expert on what actually occurs on campus and I haven’t thoroughly studied the relevant statistics. But if I had to vote today, I’d change the law. It wouldn’t solve the problem of college binge drinking and the effects if has, but I think it would help.

The stories I’ve heard would break your heart. Let’s do what we can to keep our young people safe, and teach them responsible habits they can carry throughout their lives.

UPDATE: The Pro-Con website recently posted pros and cons to changing the drinking age at http://drinkingage.procon.org/#pro_con