As American parents ship their older kids off to university this month, university officials are bracing themselves for a round of alcohol-fuelled parties and binge drinking, says the Washington Post. The academic leaders say they have tried banning “keggers” and have promoted alcohol counselling, but problems persist. It’s time for a new approach they say.
And what have the nation’s top brains come up with? A proposal to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18. Somehow they think this might get students to drink less. At least it would get the problem off their hands, and into the hands of high school principals, if not parents. So a group has been formed, mysteriously named the Amethyst Initiative, to promote debate on the drinking age and 115 university leaders so far have joined it.
In response to a wave of criticism they emphasise that they are not advocating lowering of the drinking age but that it has to be considered as part of a necessary debate, because the problem has got so bad. Full-time traditional-age college students drink more than people the same age who aren’t in college, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, which estimates that 1700 18-to24-year-old students die every year from alcohol-related injuries.
But aren’t the college presidents showing a lack of backbone and imagination here? An editorial in the Christian Science Monitor notes that surveys reveal most incoming freshmen do not show up eager to binge drink. So, if presidents acted on this assumption they would find ways to help the students not to drink. Schools could start by asking freshmen and other non-drinkers what they would do to stay off the booze, and then give them the support they need for several weeks to stay away from informal drinking parties.
In one college fraternity, students meet Friday afternoons with a different professor each week and engage in an intellectual debate. Other schools are breaking up fraternities and sororities that encourage drinking. Many events are planned by colleges simply to encourage non-drinking socialisation. Accommodation needs to be looked at (here the Monitor’s advice seems a little shaky). Administrators can work with local police to identify bars and restaurants that tolerate under-age drinking. They can enforce zero-tolerance rules in their colleges… It probably all depends on how comfortable staff want to make their own lives. ~ Washington Post, August 21; CS Monitor, August 21