An anonymous letter to CR
We were recently contacted by a gentleman whose perspective demonstrates incredible purpose, sympathy and logic. He wrote the following letter, asking to be anonymous:
Another Fall in America and another 18-year-old fraternity pledge dies of alcohol poisoning. Nolan Burch, a freshman at West Virginia University, died this past month in the Kappa Sigma fraternity house. A candlelight vigil has taken place, and a charitable foundation will likely be established in Mr. Burch’s name.
I feel the pain. I was a Kappa Sigma. My brother’s friend Gordie Bailey died of alcohol poisoning as an 18-year-old fraternity pledge at the University of Colorado. Much like Gordie’s passing, Nolan’s family and friends have proclaimed what a joyful person he was, and how they couldn’t believe such a thing happened to him. Many specific questions will be asked; rightfully so. However, the larger community – college leaders, parents, college students, politicians – has to ask some tough questions more broadly.
What are we doing wrong? Why is underage alcohol use increasing, even when public health education has drastically increased in the recent past? Why are Millenials literally killing themselves in their 20’s with alcohol? This didn’t happen to Baby Boomers.
Policy-making isn’t always purely intuitive. In fact, it’s often not. Could banning alcohol actually be worse for public health than not doing so? Absolutely. Just ask none other than West Virginia University administrators. When West Virginia began selling alcohol at football games, they saw alcohol arrests drastically decrease. How could that be? The best way to explain this phenomenon is the term “pre-gaming;” Millennials are quite familiar.
Because most college students are too young to drink legally at bars (or, in this case, that fans weren’t previously able to purchase alcohol in the stadium), they drink to excess prior to entry. 18-20 year-old’s routinely “pre-game” before going to parties and bars on college campuses across the country. Okay, but is this behavior any different than parents of Millenials’, the Baby Boomers? You bet.
Here’s one reason why: The youngest Baby Boomers went to college in the early 1980’s. Something else eerily related occurred in the early 1980’s. Almost every state raised its minimum legal drinking age to 21. The Federal government gave the states an ultimatum: raise your drinking age to 21 or lose 10% of your Federal highway funding. Louisiana didn’t technically comply until 1995, and many blame crumbling infrastructure in the state on its hold out against this law.
Perhaps we should rethink the drinking age of 21. Many college presidents – 136 to be precise – already have, by signing the Amethyst Initiative. According to its website, “Amethyst Initiative presidents and chancellors call upon elected officials to weigh all the consequences of current alcohol policies and to invite new ideas on how best to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol use.”
When it becomes legal for young people to drive an automobile, they receive extensive training and advice, gradually assuming more-and-more responsibility. On their 16th birthday, kids leave the house in the car alone for the first time, but confident in their ability after months of instruction. When the same young women and men turn 21, having been legally adults for a few years and away from their parents at college, they seek out a party environment as far away from authority as possible. Ironically, they often blatantly abuse the privilege they have only legally held for hours. Of course, many students have years of illegal practice, which may or may not have been condoned to a degree by their parents.
Should we employ the same level of strategy to educating drinkers as we do drivers? It would be easier to accomplish when living in their parents’ homes as 18-year-old’s, rather than hundreds of miles away as 21-year-old’s.
Notwithstanding, if an individual is trusted with an election ballot or with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher in the Middle East, surely they should be able to decide between Coca-Cola or Miller Lite.