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Drink and be Merry (or Fined if you’re Underage)

Opinion | October 19, 2010

To anyone who goes to college, has ever gone to college, or, really, has heard of college, it’s fairly well-known that federal laws pertaining the use of controlled substances are not always followed as strongly on college campuses as they are in what many call ‘the real world’ (read: what we all eventually have to become a part of). In the real world, people write articles discussing lowering or maintaining the drinking age for a variety of reasons, including the results of studies of brain chemistry and physiological development. The debate rages on. Let’s—while we still can—forget about that desolate place they call the real world. Let’s forget about charts and statistics. Let’s forget about the greater societal, economical, (any sort of –al) implications of the drinking age debate and look merely at what’s important: how do the current laws regarding the consumption of alcohol affect us?

Who is us?  Us. As in people reading this. As in people at Tufts (along with, of course, the broad and diverse base of Tufts Observer readers all over the world).

Let’s get this part out of the way: the age of twenty-one, as relates to us, doesn’t refer to the age at which you start drinking alcohol, the so called “drinking age.” In our case, the drinking age is personal. For me it was sophomore year of high school. For others it was their senior year. Others have been pounding bourbon since the tender age of twelve (…maybe). In our eyes, the “drinking age” and the age of twenty-one are two distinct and separate things, (even if TUPD may disagree). Suffice it to say, the legal drinking age has not prevented people from drinking alcohol.

If, on a college campus like Tufts, people can generally choose when and if they want to drink alcohol, what relevance does the federally mandated age bear? It’s simple: you can go to a bar once you’re twenty-one (pub, club, Vegas, winery, distillery, etc.), and not a minute before. As college students, our problem with the drinking age is not that it prevents us from drinking, but that it essentially bisects the college population. It turns the population into the cans and the cannots, the haves (as in ‘having a legitimate ID’) and the have-nots.

Of course, it makes sense to have laws that prevent certain people from engaging in dangerous activities. I understand why the government doesn’t permit just anyone to drive a car or serve on a jury. Maturity and experience are required for many activities. What is odd to me, though, is the arbitrary nature of the legal drinking age. At 18 we all became trusted to vote in the presidential election. We were deemed old enough to be put in federal prison for our crimes. In almost all respects we’ve been deemed old and responsible enough to have many responsibilities and expectations thrust upon us. Yet, evidently, we’re not mature enough to drink.

I assure you that I wish to do more than lament my own young age. Are there any graver implications associated with the current drinking age as pertains to college students? Every year news programs are flooded with stories of underage college students having fatal interactions with alcohol. Often these stories are accompanied with accounts of friends and acquaintances too afraid to call for help because of the legal consequences they will incur for their intoxication. Is it possible that some of these students would have sought help if their alcohol consumption had been legal?

It may be unclear whether there are benefits changing the laws regarding drinking, but what officials must understand about the situation is that the law does not affect consumption of alcohol; it affects the location and, perhaps, the safety of the drinking. In my opinion, the drinking age serves to segregate a population of peers into two sides based on an arbitrary age. The Amethyst Initiative (amethystinitiave.org) is a group of college officials from around the nation that agree that the age of twenty-one is not working at their institutions. Larry Bacow has signed this initiative, which does not propose a specific solution to the growing problem of alcohol abuse around college campuses, but merely states, “twenty-one is not working.”

It’s safe to say the debate will continue for now, but to me, and many college students and administrators, it’s clear that the current laws and policies are not serving their purposes, but rather are serving as roadblocks to unity and consistency across a campus as well as posing larger threats to general safety and well-being.