Controlling Drinking Culture on College Campuses

Binge drinking. The words are daunting and extreme, and yet the term is more commonplace in society than one would think. It is defined as one’s consumption of five or more drinks in an instant. The place where it is found most is college campuses, and for many it is the initial exposure to alcohol that is the most dangerous.

The current law in the United States forbids anyone under the age of 21 to purchase alcohol. The law was instituted in the 1980’s, and raised the legal age three years from what it was before. However, according to some, the law has only hidden the problem from those who can properly model the responsibility. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, fifty-four percent of college males and forty percent of college females reported that they take part in binge drinking during the school year.

Marist, like thousands of other institutions across the United States, has on campus-housing, sports teams, and a prominent bar culture; and the culture doesn’t begin when you turn twenty-one, it begins much earlier.

Out of ten graduating senior interviewed on the Marist campus, nine reported having acquired a fake I.D. before their second semester of freshman year. An anonymous Marist College freshman reports being at the December raid of local Hyde Park bar, Darby O’Gills. “I got ticketed the night it got raided. I had my fake I.D. taken, and I had a second at home. I have gone back to Darby’s since then a couple times, but each time is a little scary, because I’m really hoping nothing like that happens again.”

binge drinking

Photo courtesy of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce

When coming onto a college campus, emotions are high and there is a great amount of excitement. Often, students are being exposed to alcohol for the first time, or at least in more frequent circumstances. Those who are not used to it are more likely to drink dangerous amounts.

“As a resident assistant, it is surprisingly much more intense when you are assisting underclassmen,” says Marist College senior Thomas Heidcamp. Heidcamp is serving his third year as an RA in the lower Fulton Townhouses, where most students are 21 and in apartment-style housing as opposed to dorms. “Often times when kids are underage, the pressure to drink in excess is more prominent, especially in a dorm where it’s a collective culture. I think maturity also plays a huge role in handling alcohol, so if the drinking age was eighteen, we may be able to solve problems with early exposure.”

Heidcamp says the number one concern as an RA is safety. If a student is drinking underage and put in a dangerous situation, they are less likely to call for help due to the consequences of breaking the law. For instance, students may drink in excess and may not call an ambulance for themselves or others if experiencing alcohol poisoning. “When someone drinks themselves into danger, it is important they aren’t too scared to call 911”.

If alcohol is integrated into American culture the way it is viewed it European culture, college students would not feel the collective pressure that comes with the drinking experience. By returning the drinking age of eighteen, the effects of alcohol on the American collegiate experience would be less important and less prominent. In the United States, an education is only part of the college experience.

It is argued by the Journal of Public Health Policy that the drinking age was raised in 1981 to stop fatalities in traffic accidents between young adults, ages 18-21. However, cars have gotten safer as technology has advanced and authorities have cracked down on drunk drivers. But what about the deaths that occur due to recklessness not behind the wheel, such as alcohol poisoning, date-rape drugs, or sexual assault?

While the small window between the legal age of driving a car and consuming alcohol is slightly alarming, it would be a step towards integrating alcohol and normalizing it in American culture. Just as domestic states and other countries have done with the integration marijuana, lowering the drinking age could decriminalize alcohol in American society and make the enjoyment more commonplace and less intense. The overall safety of college campuses would be better off if students are exposed to alcohol in previous settings. “It’s just an idea, but from my experience, I don’t think [lowering the drinking age] would hurt as much as it would help,” says Heidcamp.

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