In 1986, shortly after the drinking age went up to 21, the Beastie Boys scored a hit with the song “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party).” I was married and in graduate school so the message passed me by, but it obviously struck a chord with a lot of high school and college students, who mistook the song for a call to arms. I say “mistook” because according to Wikipedia (yes, I used that source), the song was actually supposed to be a parody of party anthems like “Smoking in the Boys Room” (a “classic” from 70s).
Ah well, life is strange, and it’s hard to control for irony. Twenty years later, many college students continue to fight for their right to party, and if they are not winning the war—the drinking age is still 21—they are definitely getting their licks in, and the results are not that pretty. Year in and year out, administrators at liberal arts colleges like Middlebury struggle with the reality of extreme drinking. By extreme drinking, I mean enough liquor to send young men and women alike to health centers and hospitals—enough alcohol in some cases that drunken students require intravenous fluids.
The statistics around such hospital visits are not widely shared, and for good reason. Any information related to health care is treated with confidence, and we believe—reasonably, I think—that students are more likely to avail medical services for themselves or inebriated friends if they know the information will not be shared with college officials. The safety of students must be paramount. A secondary concern is the poor publicity this info can generate.
The collateral effects of such alcohol use are well known—and the war metaphors all too apt—and don’t need bear repeating here. When dean types get together to discuss this topic, they often say that the alcohol problem cannot be solved, only “managed.” I’d like to throw this issue to students—who might be reading this blog—and ask for their thoughts on the subject.
I should be clear about my own assumptions and expectations in this discussion. I recognize, as students often say, that the drinking age will not stop underage students from drinking. But the topic I mean to encircle in this post is not about the drinking age (though I recognize this law is on the outskirts of any discussion of alcohol on college campuses) or the need to bring responsible drinking into public venues (which I support), but rather the fundamental, existential question of why students drink beyond even conventional notions of excess.
You may ask what exactly do I mean by excess, and I could cite BAC levels or tell you that I recently got an email from a peer institution asking for information about our “bio clean-up” protocols. But that’s only one side of the discussion. I’d like to know how this matter—or fight—looks and feels from the inside, from the student perspective.
Feel free to respond anonymously.