Photo illustration by Peter Caty/The Mirror

Photo illustration by Peter Caty/The Mirror

A Marine walks into a bar, pulls up a chair and asks for a beer. There’s just one problem; he’s only 18. The bartender looks around for a moment, then pours the soldier a beer.
He can fight for our country but he can’t have a drink; that just doesn’t make sense.

A freshman in college arrives for her first weekend of school. The first night, everyone seemed to go crazy. However, this particular freshman keeps a cool head on her shoulders; she knows how to drink and she knows her limits. She starts off her college career helping her new roommate who drank herself straight to the toilet; she never “got away” with drinking in high school.
Not a lot makes sense about our nation’s current drinking policies. Students across the country arrive at their respective colleges and immediately join the binge drinking culture of our generation. It’s interesting to note that those who “got away” with drinking before college are affected far less by the binge-drinking epidemic. This is simply because the problem lies in a lack of education and even a lack of trust.

At 18, a person legally becomes an adult capable of serving in the military or simply learning independence while on one’s own at school. Yet our government felt the need to take away the right to drink alcohol at 18.

At the time the legal alcohol age was changed, drunk driving fatalities were through the roof. According to the Web site by activist group Mothers Against Drunk Driving, both drunk driving and non-alcohol related traffic fatalities totaled up to 5,224 in 1982. When the drinking age was changed in 1984, total fatalities dropped down to around 4,500 a year. Fast forward to 2006 and the total annual traffic fatalities have fallen to 2,121 deaths. From these bare numbers one might want to support the original change in the drinking age. But there is a catch.

While overall traffic fatalities have dropped due to the drinking age change, alcohol related deaths and abuses on college campuses have exponentially increased. These unfortunate trends spawned a movement known as the Amethyst Initiative in July of 2008.

The Amethyst Initiative served as a call to action for our government to reconsider the drinking age. It was a movement largely backed by college presidents and deans. The government changed the drinking age to address drastically high traffic fatalities. Twenty-five years later, the government must now address the negative effects of denying Americans who are, by many standards adults, the right to drink alcohol.

According to the Amethyst Initiative’s website, “1,700 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.”
The figures get worse, unfortunately, as “599,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol, more than 696,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking, more than 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape, 400,000 students had unprotected sex, and more than 100,000 students report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex.”

These shocking numbers clearly show that America is facing not simply a traffic fatality problem, but a cultural one.

To reverse the binge-drinking epidemic, our government needs to adopt a new approach; one of proper education and trust. With a little bit of both, our government might be able to reverse an epidemic that has adversely affected the culture of modern American youth. If we respect the current generation enough to reduce the legal drinking age, we just might be able to educate them about how to safely enjoy alcohol.

Any psychology class will tell you that to deny one something they desire will only make them want it more. It also doesn’t help that if you are a college-aged adult or a member of the armed services, you might feel that you’ve earned the occasional cold one. So to deny the American youth the right to partake responsibly and during the beginning of their rightful adulthood might just cause a backlash. Today’s result is a grim one.

Students, if returned the right to drink, would be able to socialize openly with a responsible pace and plans for designated drivers. Instead, 18-year-olds fill water bottles with vodka and try to “down” as much as possible before even reaching their destination for the night. Denying the right to drink alcohol at 18 has created a culture of alcohol abuse that could be rectified if students were allowed to drink responsibly on their college campus.

College presidents and deans have backed the Amethyst Initiative because they recognize their students will drink alcohol no matter the drink age. That’s why many colleges have taken steps to ensure that their students will be safe, and not driving. The issue of student drinking has caused schools like number one nationally ranked party school, University of Colorado at Boulder, to implement a free campus shuttle — known there as “night ride” — to deter driving under the influence. If college administrations could encourage a culture of safe drinking, then both alcohol related accidents and the binge drinking epidemic might be reversed.

A young adult should be educated on the responsibility that comes with alcohol consumption. The government needs to trust that our current college generation can be mature enough to respond positively to such a drastic change.

At Fairfield, our President, Fr. Jeffrey von Arx, has signed the Amethyst initiative. We should be proud that our school’s president has put his signature on such a progressive and controversial movement. However, college students across the country must wait for a day when our government addresses such an explosive issue.

For now, it would be nice to see more programs like the one at University of Colorado at Boulder, both at Fairfield and at other schools across the country.

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