Archive for July, 2009

New York Times Editorial: Readers Respond

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

This morning, the New York Times published several reader responses to last week’s editorial on college binge drinking and the legal drinking age. Matt Hoffman of Boston University took issue with the Times‘ contention that college presidents should “look at their own policies” first and consider “stronger bans on under-age drinking” before trying more creative solutions to the problem. Hoffman wrote:

It seems that the Amethyst Initiative signatories — a group of college presidents who are urging reconsideration of the drinking age — recognize the futility of an outright ban on student alcohol usage and want to address the issue without criminalizing the majority of their undergraduate populations. This is a reasonable goal, regardless of how the drinking age affects 18- to 21-year-olds who do not attend school.

The Times editorial received some attention in other outlets as well, including an opinion piece from Kathleen Reeves, a freelance writer for Campus Progress. Reeves took a detailed look at the studies which the Times editorial board referenced and concluded,

Anyone who’s been to college recently knows that colleges are far from ignorant of the problem of binge drinking. They invest significant amounts of money and time in alcohol education and in the enforcement of the law—and these efforts haven’t worked. To assert that college campuses (and their lack of enforcement) are the problem ignores the question of a solution. Colleges exist, the culture of binge drinking exists there, and serious efforts of colleges to change this culture have failed.

As Reeves noted, the consequences of this binge drinking culture on college campuses are dire: “Binge drinking on college campuses is not going away, and while we decide what to do about it, college students are dying.” We need only to look back at the pages of the Times to see some real-world evidence of these troubling trends. Kathleen Raddatz Quartaro, the mother of Ali Marie Raddatz, a UWM freshman who passed away after a night of heavy drinking back in February, told the Times editors,

The problem is not with the colleges; the problem is with a law that states need to be allowed to change, if they so choose. Let’s see what happens when alcohol consumption returns to public places where adults can model responsible behavior and monitor irresponsible behavior. If that had been allowed, my daughter would probably still be alive.

We’d like to hear from you – these latest studies show that binge drinking on college campuses is not getting any better, and that binge drinking among women appears to be increasing. What else can we do to improve this situation? Check out the rest of the letters in the Times and leave your feedback in the comments.

Battling Binge Drinking at Florida-Georgia Game

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Over the weekend, Marcus Garner of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on new efforts by University of Florida President J. Bernard Machen to cut down on binge drinking at the annual Florida-Georgia football game, which was once popularly known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.” Machen sent a letter to Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton requesting that more citywide regulations be instituted to cut down on abusive drinking, including limitations on the number of establishments serving alcohol and prohibitions on the sale of shots inside a waterfront shopping area.

Machen’s letter, which alluded to an incident where he saw “emergency crews at a previous game rush an underaged girl to the hospital because she was passed out drunk before noon,” comes on the heels of student deaths in 2004 and 2005. What’s your take on this effort? Clearly, something needs to be done to prevent these types of incidents from happening again. Can these new policies work?

Week in Review

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Happy Independence Day from the whole team at Choose Responsibility. We hope you and your loved ones have a relaxing and safe holiday weekend. Remember: the Fourth of July is one of the most dangerous holidays of the year for drunk driving. According to NHTSA statistics, 34% of all drivers involved in traffic crashes during the 2007 July 4th holiday period possessed a BAC of .08 or higher. Please drive safely, and bring a designated driver if you plan on drinking.

It’s been another busy week at the [CR] office in DC, as we prepare to make the case for change to state Senators and Representatives from across the country at the NCSL and ALEC conferences later in the month. Visit the link to our campaign to help us get there! And now, the week’s news…

Stories this week:

Greg Esposito of The Roanoke Times continued his “Under 21” series with an in-depth interview with [CR] President John McCardell. Check out what he had to say, and watch an exclusive video clip of the interview, at the Times’ online edition.

Maryland’s Gaithersburg Gazette published a letter to the editor by Mauricio Garcia, who questioned the disparity between the age of majority and the legal drinking age. He argued that in addition to changing our alcohol laws, we should consider raising the driving age, in order to prevent more traffic accidents caused by inexperienced drivers. What do you think? Join the discussion in the comments below.

More news from Maryland: Lauren Redding of the University of Maryland’s Diamondback Online put some recent statistics about collegiate binge drinking into context on her campus: Warren Kelley, an Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, warned about the dangers of these upward trends, saying, “National trends getting worse are quite concerning. Our students aren’t immune from the direction of society and culture, and if it continues to get worse, I suspect we’ll see the evidence here as well.”

In other news…

A study published in the July issue Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that prevention programs on a community level can help curb off-campus drinking by college students. Half of the students participated in a program called Neighborhoods Engaging with Students (NEST) which involved open dialogues about the drinking culture between students, neighbors and law enforcement officials. Drinking among participating students fell by 27 percent compared to the control group. Though the long term effects of the NEST program remain to be seen, it’s possible that programs which emphasize meaningful “town-gown” connections can help curb dangerous drinking.

Writing in The Houston Chronicle, Alan Reed shared students’ perspectives on a recent study showing the increase in binge drinking incidents in college-age women. According to the study, the “gender gap” on binge drinking appears to be narrowing: in 2006, almost 39 percent of women ages 21 to 23 reported that they binge drink. On researcher attributes the rise in binge drinking to the effects of widespread alcohol advertising: underage women saw 68 percent more beer ads and 95 percent more alcopops advertising in 2002 compared to what women of legal age were seeing. When Reed went looking for a student’s take on this issue, he spoke with Sarah Brown, a student at Texas State University, who said, “there’s a lot of guys who want to drink as much as they possibly can, and there’s a lot of girls who want to keep up with those guys. I’ve seen people pass out on sidewalks, pass out in dorms, pass out anywhere.” These upward trends can have dire consequence: after all, alcohol contributes to 97,000 cases of sexual assault on college campuses every year. Clearly, something about our approach to alcohol education isn’t working very well, and it’s time to consider a change in the status quo.

A New York Times editorial this week also took a look at the same study. The editorial, which chided “College presidents who have been blaming drinking-age laws for drunkenness at their schools had better look at their own policies,” called on colleges to take more forceful steps to curb binge drinking. The Times neglected to consider that the fact that binge drinking rates among 18-23 year old male students have remained essentially flat since 1979, and have significantly increased for their female counterparts is not evidence of colleges ignoring the problem, or abdicating responsibility. Quite the opposite–these increases have taken place during a period when there has been increased study of and attention to the dangers of binge drinking on virtually every campus in the nation. This problem is a cultural one, and the results of this study, which are purely correlational, show not that the 21 year-old drinking age has been effective, but that it is time for new strategies and a fresh approach to the toxic drinking that is killing too many young people–both those in college and out of college–every day.

As a reminder, the [CR] officer will be closed in observance of the federal Independence Day holiday on Friday, July 3rd. Enjoy the fireworks this weekend!

Kansas City Star Op-Ed: 21 Doesn’t Work

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Freelance journalist Pablo Andreu has an op-ed in the Kansas City Star today, arguing that the 21 year old drinking age is contributing to a dangerous culture of binge drinking on and off campus. Andreu wrote about Kansas University first-year Jason Wren, who died from alcohol poisoning after a night of hard drinking in March, and then offered his take on steps to prevent similar tragedies from occurring:

Lowering the drinking age to 18 is not a cure-all, but it’s a good start. Just as drunken driving is part of the broader issue of irresponsible drinking, binge drinking is part of the broader issue of binge culture. America is a country that oscillates between ascetic self-deprivation and extravagant excess… The solution is long term and difficult to assess: Lead America’s youth by example. Let’s drink moderately, eat moderately and live moderately.

Here at [CR] we’re working to broaden the public debate to address all the dangers of excessive alcohol use among young people, not just those that happen on the road. In Kansas, and many other states, legal age 21 remains an obstacle to tackling binge drinking head-on.

Have you tried writing your own letter to the editor? Did you publish something in your local paper on this issue? Let us know in the comments.