Drunken dogma

Maintaining the current drinking age is unfair and dangerous for college students

For those younger than 21-years-old here at the University, the wait until your 21st birthday, when you are finally treated like an adult by society, can be seem like an eternity. 18-year-olds, whom we deem mature and responsible enough to vote, get married, and be drafted and die for our country, do not like being told that they are too young to drink a beer. That is why many underage students here at the University practice a little "civil disobedience" and drink anyway. Unfortunately, this can lead to dangerous binge drinking and is one reason that the legal drinking age should be 18, not 21.

Currently there is a movement called the Amethyst Initiative, started by former Middlebury President John McCardell in 2008, to try to engage a debate surrounding the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. The initiative does not propose specific policy changes, but merely suggests that the current drinking age of 21 is not working and is leading to dangerous activities such as binge drinking. Currently 135 college and university presidents have signed on to this petition. Notably absent from the list is the president of the University, President John T. Casteen, III. I certainly would encourage Casteen to rethink his stance on this important debate.

Everyone knows that underage drinking takes place at the University. To deny it would be ignorant. It takes place in dorms, off-campus apartments, and parties. Fourth-year student Mark McDonald, a former resident advisor in Old Dorms, notes that there is underage drinking going on in resident halls and that this is almost impossible to prevent. "Safety is my absolute first priority, but obviously we can't be searching bags and checking people's rooms all the time, so drinking definitely takes place in dorms."

There is an important distinction between when an underage person drinks and when a 21-year-old drinks. The person of legal drinking age has virtually unlimited access to alcohol, in that he can legally buy it whenever he feels like it. The underage person most likely has limited access to alcohol - whenever there is a party or they can find someone to buy them alcohol. This can lead to binge drinking - because these students have less access to alcohol, there is more of an incentive to consume great amounts during the few times they have access. Also, pre-gaming can be a very dangerous activity for underage students. Since these students will not be able to drink at events such as tailgates, concerts, or bars, they will often drink before going out, and often consume great quantities in a short period of time. This can be extremely dangerous, as students may not start to feel that they have consumed too much until after they have left the safety of their apartments. Many students also use fake IDs to get alcohol, which can only lead to greater criminal penalties should they get caught drinking.

Proponents of the drinking age being 21 argue that this increases the safety of the nation's young adults. This assertion is still up for debate. The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry released a study that examined the effects of raising the drinking age had on binge drinking. It found that "the overall trend is toward lower rates of binge drinking among youths" but "little improvement has occurred for college students." The study also found that the "risk for binge drinking increased among 21- to 23-year-old women."

While binge drinking is clearly an unhealthy practice, there are also other factors to consider when thinking about a legal drinking age. 18-year-olds are treated like adults in virtually every aspect of the law except when it comes to drinking. They can marry, sign legal documents, enlist in the military, be drafted into the military, vote, and even be sentenced to death, but they cannot walk into a restaurant and order a glass of wine with dinner. This is completely backwards. Either we should redefine what age we consider people to be adults or we should actually treat 18-year-olds like people who are capable of making their own decisions. I am certainly not advocating to raise the voting age; there just needs to be consistency about when we define adulthood. If someone is responsible enough to marry, then they should also be able to have a glass of champagne at the reception.

Megan Stiles' column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at m.stiles@cavalierdaily.com.

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