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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.

11 Responses to “A Fight for the Right to What?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    i am far in the minority of college students here (and probably most places) in that i don’t drink at all, and won’t until i turn 21 (and then not to excess). i believe in taking care of my body and respecting the law (what a crazy idea). but i too would like to fight for my right to party – to go to a dance and not have beer spilled on me, or leave smelling like pot; to have fun and then remember it the next morning; to not be regarded as uptight because i can enjoy myself while not under the influence of anything. and i am going to go out on a limb here, which will probably provoke criticism in our relativistic, anything-goes society, and say that no, i don’t have to respect your choice to binge drink, leave beer cans in my hall and keep me up till 4 a.m. with your loud party. another point that is glossed over is that yes, you are breaking the law if you are underage, and i don’t have to respect that either. i think the reigning philosophy is that if the school were to crack down, it would only make the problem worse in private, but i think some measure of accountability would help. honestly, nobody is really worried about public safety, or the reslife staff, or the rules in general. they do what they want because they know they’ll turn a blind eye. the social scene at midd would be so much better if people would just leave the alcohol alone and find more creative ways to have fun.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Learning to consume responsibly is not helped by a high-pressure, high-stress environment where social norms include a high level of binge drinking relative to the general population. I think that this issue is not Middlebury-specific by any means, but is probably exacerbated by our rural location and having to largely create our own social scene (as opposed to a city school served by external events). In an ideal world, Middlebury freshmen would arrive knowing their alcohol (or other drug) limits and how to remain within them, but I’m sure a fair number of students obtain their habits here at school. My grandmother tells of first learning to drink at age 16 with wine supplied by her mother during dinner, but with the 21-year-old drinking age few young people have begun their alcohol education under parental supervision, and the activity has become illegal, illicit, and thus inherently attractive. You wrote an interesting post about a problem without a clear solution.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Why I don’t follow the law:

    The law regarding drinking age is not rational. It does indeed force drinking underground and behind closed doors. If Post #1 really wants the parties out of the dorms, cracking down on drinking won’t help. Allowing drinking publicly would. This way, students wouldn’t feel the need to drink in the dorm, but would actually have the opportunity to do so at a party (a novel idea!) Our culture regards underage drinking as such a “problem”, so much so that it gives drinking the appeal it currently enjoys. I’ve never drank to “excess”, never becoming physically sick because of it. Why? This may be speculation, but drinking was never a problem in my house. My parents allowed and encouraged us to experiment safely. As a result, I know my limits, I know when to stop, I know how to drink and have a good time, without becoming sick afterwards. So maybe the idea isn’t completely unfounded. While I understand no one can force a cultural change, I’ll maintain that that is what we need as a society.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I totally agree with Anonymous #1, i also do not drink at all, and find it abnormal to be of the only few who are still sober on Friday night, and this the reason why I am not very social with my neighbors, because the only time they get together to socialize and have fun is when they are damn drunk, a solution which I cannot think of at the moment could be suggested to this issue,

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