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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Column: Alcohol reform sobers up colleges drunk on deceit

    Naomi McClendon wanted to save the world. She was student body president of her high school and had chosen to major in nonprofit leadership and management. McClendon graduated and moved to Arizona State University. The freedom of college life was hers and, with it, the promise of parties and alcohol. So she attended an off-campus party and drank some liquor. Deciding to head back home, she wandered through the 10th-floor hallway, out to the balcony. Straddling the railing, she walked straight out into the air and fell to her death.

    College life brings a host of uncharted waters to freshmen, and colleges aren’t making that experience any easier. A federal law, passed in the early 1980s, raised the legal drinking age to 21 and compelled states to raise their legal drinking age, too. Colleges had little choice but to revise their alcohol policies.

    Since then, college campuses have been locked in an internal war with underage drinking and intoxication.

    Young people flock to what they can’t have, a lesson every parent has to learn.

    Alcohol is the biggest of these attractions, particularly because of the premium that government laws and regulations have placed on it. At 18, teenagers are considered old enough to die for their country, get married, vote, have sex, act in porn and so on. One of the only things they have to wait longer for is alcohol. It’s no surprise then that, in Arizona, underage citations have continued to increase annually from 1,502 in 2007 to 8,527 in 2013.

    Colleges understand that students desperately want to drink; yet, as custodians of the underage kids on their campuses, they are ultimately responsible for ensuring these kids remain sober.

    But no college can claim to be winning this war. Rather, they’ve been losing for decades. And colleges don’t mind much that they are losing; they have good reason not to. A drinking student population means more money for the school: more money being spent at college football or basketball games, more students applying to study at the college and more business on campus.

    Therefore, the high road most colleges take in the media and on their policies about drinking isn’t always their true stand on the subject. Actions speak louder than words.

    Most colleges, including the UA, condone alcohol at Greek Life events despite knowing that there’s going to be an awful lot of underage drinking going on. Underage students make up more than 75 percent of students on campuses and the vast majority of Greek Life members.

    In Arizona, there are no distance limitations for alcohol outlets around college campuses; retailers or bars can set up shop next to schools with thirsty student populations. On University Boulevard and Fourth Avenue, a number of bars abound, all making brisk business. All students need to do is show some ID, fake or original, to get in. With those attractions so close to campus, it’s difficult to believe the university or the Arizona Board of Regents when they claim to be fighting underaged drinking.

    Underaged students who are caught drinking get away too easily, sometimes with only a letter to their parents or an enforced alcohol seminar. Colleges have to do better if they want people to believe their rhetoric.

    Some colleges have already started. By forming the Amethyst Initiative, which currently has 136 signatories, John McCardell, president of Sewanee University of the South, hopes to convince colleges to pressure political leaders to review and debate the effectiveness of the present legal drinking age. These colleges recognize the difficulties in achieving successful alcohol policies that ensure alcohol is only consumed in a responsible manner, without the added burden of chasing underaged students about to keep them from drinking.

    The UA isn’t a signatory yet, but it should be. Reviewing downwards the legal drinking age may save college administrators the time and money now committed to ineffective and hypocritical alcohol policies. Links may be found between this and the case for legalizing marijuana. Take the attraction and mystique out of alcohol by treating college freshmen as the adults they want to be seen as. Give them the keys to the wine cabinet at 18 and teach them how to drink responsibly, not dangerously.

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    Chikezie Anachu is an international trade and business law student. Follow him on Twitter.

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