Chancellor Nancy Cantor of Syracuse University and the Presidents of Cazenovia, Colgate, Elmira and Hamilton have joined the heads of over 100 colleges and universities calling for revising the current 21 year old drinking age.
The Amethyst Initiative has been recruiting the heads of these schools to speak out, since their campuses are often the site of dangerous alcohol abuse. The feeling is that the 21 year age limit forces drinking to be clandestine, leading to dangerous binge drinking. The reliance of college students on fake ID’s also creates a climate of hypocrisy and disrespect for law and authority.
I notice that my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania has not signed on. During my time at Penn, the drinking age in the state was 21, except for the bars on campus, where a Penn ID that had no birthdate got you in to all the campus watering holes. Walking to the 24 hour McDonald’s one night at about 3 AM during an all-nighter, my friends and I witnessed a police officer walk into the closed Smokey Joes, the best-known campus bar, and walk right back out carrying a brown paper bag. Perhaps this form of organized bribery is the answer. I also note that the one bar on campus that adhered to the 21 year law was Carney’s, the bar located in the first floor of the Graduate Towers housing complex. They didn’t want rowdy undergrads so they carded everybody.
At the same time I was at college, the New York state drinking age was 18. Alcohol was a part of high school life since I could legally buy beer from January through June of my senior year. No wonder the graffiti at high school read: Stoned and drunk and always late . . . that’s the Class of ’78. Drinking in college was THE form of entertainment, even at the study-obsessed, grade-grubbing, pre-professional Ivy league school I went to. It wreaks havoc on campus life–vandalism, assaults, unsafe behavior.
Discussions need to be had about fostering alternatives and providing support for those prone to abuse of alcohol. Will an 18 year old drinking age be any better at curbing binge drinking than a 21 year old drinking age? I’m not so sure. The 18 year old age will certainly bring back the bar culture that disappeared from campuses. Colleges need to be prepared to foster alternative activities and providing support for those prone to abuse of alcohol. I survived the college drinking experience, but it took many years after school to become a mature and responsible drinker. My education certainly would have benefited from a little less experimentation with fermentation and more of an investigation of the culture offered in a major metropolitan city.