Although 60 Minutes likely isn’t the average TCU student’s most Tivo’d program, a featured story on Sunday’s edition was relevant to all college-age Americans.
The topic was whether the minimum legal drinking age should be lowered from 21 to 18.
While it seems a little backward, John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College and founder of Choose Responsibility, thinks college students would be safer if they could legally consume alcohol at 18. Although it is still up to each state to determine its own legal age, federal law mandates that a state will lose 10 percent of its highway funding if that age is less than 21. McCardell and 134 other college and university presidents and chancellors have signed the Amethyst Initiative which is a petition supporting the age change. They believe an educated and open national debate is needed to determine whether or not the federal government should repeal the law.
McCardell and other campus leaders from colleges across America argue that lowering the drinking age will prevent young people from being driven to drink behind closed doors where it is more difficult to monitor and control.
While Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who adamantly pushed for the raise to 21 in the 1980s, credits the raise of the drinking age for a decline of alcohol-related traffic fatalities, countless other things have contributed.
First, the idea of a designated driver didn’t even exist until the past few decades. Second, seat belt awareness, better air bags and higher safety standards have saved thousands of lives. Third, Ignition Interlock Devices, which require sober breath to start an automobile, are often installed by court order on the vehicles of DWI offenders if they are to regain their drivers licenses. Further, DWI enforcement has increased exponentially in the past decades – so much so that nonintoxicated individuals are sometimes arrested due to stringent police officer screening procedures.
Instead of preventing underage drinking, raising the age has created an illusion of safety and pushed drinking behind closed doors such as dorm rooms, fraternity houses and house parties. If it were legal for college students to drink in bars, restaurants and on campus, they would be more likely to do so safely. Just as TCU football tailgate parties are more safe and supervised on campus, college students who consume alcohol do so more safely when in a more public and legal environment.
The Gordie Foundation recently released a documentary called HAZE about alcohol abuse and hazing at universities and screened the film at TCU for over 1,000 students last fall. The foundation, which began after the death of its namesake, Gordie Bailey, who died of an alcohol overdose after a fraternity ritual at the University of Colorado, supports the efforts of McCardell and Choose Responsibility. Gordie’s mother, Leslie Lanahan, said in the film she believes her son’s fraternity brothers might have sought medical attention sooner if they had not been concerned with the legal issues associated with underage students consuming alcohol.
The time has come to stop turning a blind eye on the ineffectiveness of imposing prohibition on 18 to 20-year-olds.
Do we want to create a safer environment for young adults, or would we rather continue living under the illusion that this law is effective?
I would hope that 18 to 20-year-olds would speak out for their right to be treated just as they are in the armed services, voting booths, on contracts and in the jury box – as adults. I also hope Chancellor Victor Boschini will continue our trend of being “ahead of the curve” and consider making the proactive choice to sign the Amethyst Initiative.
John Andrew Willis is a sophomore environmental science major from Dallas.