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College Presidents Call for Lower Drinking Age

Well, this could get interesting.

College presidents from about 100 of the nation’s best-known universities, including Duke, Dartmouth and Ohio State, are calling on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, saying current laws actually encourage dangerous binge drinking on campus. …

“This is a law that is routinely evaded,” said John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College in Vermont who started the organization. “It is a law that the people at whom it is directed believe is unjust and unfair and discriminatory.”

Kind of a strange way to make the case, but fair enough.  Plenty of people, myself included, think a lot of the most dangerous kinds of binge drinking would be curtailed by kids’ showing up to school with more, not less, experience with alcohol.

MADD, however, recommends that we let the good times roll.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving says lowering the drinking age would lead to more fatal car crashes. It accuses the presidents of misrepresenting science and looking for an easy way out of an inconvenient problem. MADD officials are even urging parents to think carefully about the safety of colleges whose presidents have signed on.

“It’s very clear the 21-year-old drinking age will not be enforced at those campuses,” said Laura Dean-Mooney, national president of MADD.

Sigh.   Thank you for arguing like a  5-year-old.

McCardell claims that his experiences as a president and a parent, as well as a historian studying Prohibition, have persuaded him the drinking age isn’t working.

But critics say McCardell has badly misrepresented the research by suggesting that the decision to raise the drinking age from 18 to 21 may not have saved lives.

In fact, MADD CEO Chuck Hurley said, nearly all peer-reviewed studies looking at the change showed raising the drinking age reduced drunk-driving deaths. A survey of research from the U.S. and other countries by the Centers for Disease Control and others reached the same conclusion.

If drunk-driving deaths were the only toll inflicted by abuse of alcohol, Hurley might have a point.  But the costs of our dysfunctional drinking culture of course extend far beyond that, into the realm of cirrhosis and obesity and the psychological torture of alcoholism.  To me, building a healthier drinking culture requires education, and education requires teaching kids about alcohol when they’re young enough to be taught.

Anything else to add, responsible adults?

Hurley, of MADD, has a different take on the presidents.

“They’re waving the white flag,” he said.

Well, alcohol is winning, if that’s what he means.

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#1 Comment By Soph Mom On August 19, 2008 @ 1:43 am

Ben, what a great topic for discussion.

When I have a moment, I am going to search for an article that I read not too long ago. The premise of it was that the kids for which binge-drinking becomes an issue in college, are the ones that grow up in a household in which it is not only forbidden them, (even though the parents may partake), but also not broached as a topic of discussion.

Lowering the drinking age was not the thrust of the argument (and that does take the topic to a whole other level). It had more to do with the attitudes and the kind of parent-child relationship that is more likely to result in a solid base of understanding and responsibility, (along with a little experience), before leaving home.

I will look for the article…

#2 Comment By hwc On August 19, 2008 @ 2:15 am

When I have a moment, I am going to search for an article that I read not too long ago. The premise of it was that the kids for which binge-drinking becomes an issue in college, are the ones that grow up in a household in which it is not only forbidden them, (even though the parents may partake), but also not broached as a topic of discussion.

Good luck searching for that article. It was probably written by Seagrams. The facts are that one of the strongest correlations with college binge drinking is high school binge drinking.

From the Harvard College Alcohol Study:

31.1% of students who did not binge in high school binged as college students in the 2 weeks prior to the survey.

73.9% of students who did binge in high school binged as college students in the 2 weeks prior to the survey.

The data is even more striking for the frequent binge drinkers, those who binged more than once a week in the 2 weeks prior to the survey.

12.2% of students who did not binge in high school were frequent college bingers.

46.7% of students who did binge in high school were frequent college bingers.

The only other factor that even comes close to these correlations is residence in a fraternity house.

Here’s the link to the Harvard College Alcohol Study PDF

The increased drinking age has reduced availability and use of alcohol among high school children. The definitive research on this is the annual Monitoring the Future Survey conducted by the University of Michigan. I found their comparative data on driking rates going back 16 years:

Percentage of kids who had ever consumed alcohol:

8th graders:
1991: 70.1%
2007: 38.9%

10th graders:
1991: 83.8%
2007: 61.7%

12th graders:
1991: 88.0%
2007: 72.2%

Here’s the link to the 2007 Monitoring the Future PDF

#3 Comment By Will Slack ’11 On August 19, 2008 @ 2:21 am

One can argue that the 18th amendment reduced drunk driving deaths as well. That doesn’t mean the 21st shouldn’t have been passed.

#4 Comment By hwc On August 19, 2008 @ 2:25 am

In case it’s not clear from the above data, reducing the use and abuse of alcohol by middle and high school students pays huge benefits from a public health standpoints. Students who binge drink in high school are four times more likely to be frequent binge drinkers in college (the group causing the problems).

That’s before we even get into drunk driving by high school students.

Raising the drinking age to 21 drastically reduced high school use and abuse of alcohol, especially the younger kids. You want more drunk 16 year olds on the road with you? I don’t think so.

#5 Comment By hwc On August 19, 2008 @ 2:40 am

Since I’m always big on finding common ground (along with puppies and unicorn and rainbows and choruses of kumbaya), I would propose the following compromise that should satisfy all concerns:

a) reduce the drinking age to 18
b) increase the driving age to 21

#6 Comment By PTC On August 19, 2008 @ 3:13 am

hwc- 18 for all AD members of our armed forces.

#7 Comment By EE On August 19, 2008 @ 3:40 am

It is high time that US looks past its borders on this topic … just for a change. As far as I know, 21 is the highest min. drinking age in all of the western countries. In Germany, legal drinking age is 16. (Well, there are no speed limits on Autobahns, either, but this is beside the point) IMHO, it is nothing but yet another display of “holier-than-thou” attitude by families that conveniently choose not to deal with a possible problem of educating their kids while they are still at home. Oh, BTW, alcoholism and deaths caused by drunk driving are far smaller problems in Germany than in US. Anyone dare guess why?

#8 Comment By frank uible On August 19, 2008 @ 6:41 am

At least in part because being caught driving under the influence in Germany means suspension of one’s driver’s license for one year without exception.

#9 Comment By PTC On August 19, 2008 @ 6:47 am

EE- Multiple reasons. First of all, the Germans have a completely different culture when it comes to rules. Anything “Verboten” is strictly out of the question. I have waited with others for a crosswalk light at 4am in Germany, absolutely no traffic in sight- Why? Verboten! Ever see the reaction of others on the highway, or a German friend in the car, when you pass on the right on the autobahn? You got it, Verboten!

Then of course there is the much better public transportation. There is a lot of drinking going on in Germany, but they have good rail and buses. Go to any massive Oktoberfest, and you will find drunks dancing on tables, and taking a train home. In Europe, people have good public transportation and they use it. I would wager that the drunk driving in NYC is much less per capita than it is in other cities because it is one of the very few cities in our country that has good public transportation.

Hard to compare apples and oranges, and come up with the controls necessary to make statements about the frequency of crimes when you are comparing different cultures.

#10 Comment By JeffZ On August 19, 2008 @ 7:15 am

I am with the Presidents on this one.

First, having a law on the books that is totally unenforced (almost every non-Morman college in the country has substantial volumes of drinking, and almost no one at those college thinks it is wrong) just makes respect for the law a joke.

It is ridiculous any hypocritical that we trust 18 year-olds to shoot people with guns during war time but not to have a beer. Just makes no sense.

I don’t think it is a necessary a GOOD thing that fewer teenagers have “ever” consumed alcohol, HWC. Binge drinking is one thing, but learning how to consume alcohol in moderation, rather than outright prohibiting it until kids are away from their parents (because no one actually enforces the 21 year old limit at colleges and it never will be enforced), does no one any favors. As has been often noted, europeans have access to alcohol at young ages and don’t regularly drink themselves into stupors the way american teenagers and especially college students do, who are attracted to a taboo and don’t know how to handle booze.

If drunk driving is the primary concern, here is my solution: increase penalties for drunk driving so people take it more seriously. And for anyone under 21 driving drunk, take their license away for a year. That would be a pretty nice deterrent.

I’d also say that drunk driving, if it has declined in the last 20 years, could be explained at least in part by other factors beyond the rise in the drinking age: after all, drunk driving was for decades treated with a wink and a nod and penalized with a slap on the wrist. Only in recent decades have penalties increased, as well as social aprobation. As we at ephblog all know, correlation does not equal causation.

While we’re on this topic, when is the posst on legalizing mj coming?

#11 Comment By JG On August 19, 2008 @ 7:59 am

hwc – I’m don’t think your data actually contradicts Soph Mom, although you seem to think it does. Those high school binge drinkers certainly might be growing up in homes where it is forbidden and nobody talks about it. Your data says absolutely nothing about WHY kids start drinking, just when. SM was trying to see why it happens. Since your goal is to reduce drinking by middle school and high school students, wouldn’t stronger communication between parents and children be a means to do that? Therefore, isn’t the article SM mentioned EXACTLY on point?

BTW, the data on 8th graders who have “ever consumer alcohol” is most likely misleading w/out an explanatory note. I grew up catholic, therefore I have “consumed alcohol” in its most basic sense since I was 7 or 8 years old and had my First Communion. I’m sure many other kids also got a single sip of beer or wine or champagne at special events. Did they explain that “consume” meant more than a sip, or are all the overly honest kids who maybe don’t drink other than that sip over-reporting? I’d be happy to be proven wrong, but that strikes me as a problematic number otherwise.

#12 Comment By Soph Mom On August 19, 2008 @ 8:00 am

I should have known better than to make my comment the first…because in doing so, I just set myself up for the ‘hwc modus operandi’; which consists of attacking and belittling… and then producing the ‘hwc customary list’ of stats and facts, which mostly serve the purpose of making hwc ‘right’, rather than encouraging discussion, thereby accomplishing nothing towards solving a problem that so obviously needs new and fresh consideration.

The gist of the article, I REPEAT, laid the blame on the attitude that we have, (particularly in this country), to alcohol. An attitude that squelches healthy and open discussion… that insists on tiptoeing around the subject of alcoholism. An attitude that somehow makes it okay for parents to drink, while absolutely forbidding any familiarization with it… to their kids. And it is this attitude, that helps to produce the binge drinker your stats portray.

As I said before, the drinking age was not the thrust of the article, or of my argument. I realize that is the main topic here, but IMO, it is a topic that can’t be intelligently addressed without first, (or at least simultaneously) addressing these underlying issues.

#13 Comment By David Kane On August 19, 2008 @ 10:09 am

1) MADD is famous in some circles for spending almost all the money it raises on more fund-raising.

2) My solution to this (for Williams) is simple. It is (relatively) easy to amend the Massachusetts state constitution via ballot. An amendment which set the drinking age to be the same as the minimum age for induction into the US armed forces would, I think, pass. (Framing matters.) Once it passed, Williams, at least, could try to recreate the culture of Beer Street. If you are new to this debate at EphBlog, try that link. Great stuff!

3) Here is the website for the initiative. Williams/Morty has not signed.

#14 Comment By Chotch On August 19, 2008 @ 10:26 am

This may be the article SM was talking about, but in any case it gets at the same point.

Looking at college campuses and leaving high school aside for the moment, I do believe that lowering the drinking age to 18 would decrease binge drinking. My first year on campus the drinking age was not really enforced at all-campus parties. It wasn’t until sophomore year homecoming that security started enforcing it. So what did my friends and I do when we were kicked out of an all-campus party? We went back to our dorm to take shots so that we would be drunk when we were out at the parties. My frosh did the same thing the next year.

As JAs, we did not tell the frosh not to drink, but tried to teach them to drink in a social (and thus more responsible) way. Our having to worry about security, and more recently the WPD, makes our jobs more difficult by creating a more dangerous drinking environment.

So, at least in my opinion, the lower drinking age is safer when we restrict ourselves to college campuses.

The problem arises when we look at high schools, because as we know, 18 year olds who can buy alcohol will buy it for their younger friends, who in the US can drive. As pointed out by PTC, this is a problem that is larger in the US than most other Western countries, because our public transportation is subpar (to put it kindly). Many families live in suburbs where driving is a necessity to get anywhere.

So I think the question boils down to: how do we make college campuses safer while not endangering those children still in high school?

#15 Comment By JG On August 19, 2008 @ 10:27 am

David – wasn’t part of the reason states raised their drinking age that federal higway funds were tied to it? Unless that has changed, I have my doubts that any state will easily give away that (often) essential pile of money.

#16 Comment By EE On August 19, 2008 @ 10:28 am

PTC — My question was rather rhetorical. I lived in Germany and other European countries for a while, and other than occasional drunk throwing up on the sidewalk, I did not encounter any significant downsides of underage or public drinking.

Yes, certain things are “verboten” in Germany, but it does not mean they do not have a point. In addition to the factoid supplied by frank uible (i.e., suspension of driver’s license for a year for drunk driving), the rules are tougher for a teenager within two years of obtaining a driver’s license. As an example, you get two (or three — not very sure which) tickets of any kind while driving, and your license is revoked. And you cannot pass a new test simply driving a couple of rounds in a Kroger parking lot. So, you do not break rules, which, in this case, are necessary to make sure that everyone drives safely even without speed limits. Certain rules do work.

I retract the example of Germany. Choose any other country with lower min. legal drinking age of any continent (gee, that would be indeed _any_ other country not ruled by Sharia) and, chances are, alcohol is not that big of a problem there.

Again, different cultures are there not only so that we have exotic lands to visit, but sometimes to draw examples from, to find alternatives for certain shortcomings of the society. Their solutions may work for them, but it is clear that certain things do not work well here, and it would be worthwhile taking a good look at how they deal with this particular issue.

#17 Comment By rory On August 19, 2008 @ 10:46 am

if the problem is drunk driving, the answer should be laws targeting drunk driving. laws that focus on not allowing binging and driving and laws that make sure if you do it once, you won’t do it again.

things like:
1. installing breathalyzers in the cars of anyone caught drunk driving.
2. Greater liability for the servers (it is large already, but could be even bigger)
3. more money for police to patrol around bars for drinking and driving.

Raising the age was and is an indirect method of addressing the real problem: drunk driving. To me, it seems backwards, and PTC’s Europe argument with a twist is what I believe.

European adolescents learn how to drink and what their limits are and that drinking in moderation is doable and tasty (mmm…sangria) BEFORE ever stepping into a car. then they learn “ok, no drinking and driving”. I have no idea IF it works (I don’t know european traffic stats well enough, plus the difference in driving distances, etc. probably plays a big role) but it makes a lot more sense to me.

#18 Comment By bfleming On August 19, 2008 @ 11:13 am

Written by Seagrams! I get it! That’s funny.

Oh wait, it’s not.

Even though the overall rate of binge drinking did not change between 1993 and 1999, other changes were evident. In 1999, drinking on college campuses continued a trend toward becoming more strongly polarized: almost 1 in 5 students (19%) was an abstainer, and almost 1 in 4 (23%) was a frequent binge drinker.

Nonbinge drinker
1993: 40.1%
1997: 38.2%
1999: 36.6%

Frequent binge drinker
1993: 19.8%
1997: 20.9%
1999: 22.7%

Not healthy. Not a success.

As to your point, sure:

In the meantime, a significant rise in frequent binge drinking occurred among students who were binge drinkers in high school.

I think there’s plenty of reason to believe that lowering the drinking age to 18 would decrease, not increase, the number of high school binge drinkers, as tends to be the case everywhere else in the world.

#19 Comment By hwc On August 19, 2008 @ 11:16 am

then producing the ‘hwc customary list’ of stats and facts

Yeah, I hate when those pesky facts get in the way. Speaking of which, there are some pretty big claims being thrown about in this discussion with absolutely nothing to back them up.

Specifically, that binge drinking would decline with reduction in the drinking age. Let’s have a little data for that one, please? There is nothing I’ve seen in the data to suggest that is the case. Binge drinking rates in the Harvard national studies show slightly higher rates for juniors and seniors (more likely to be 21).

Or, my favorite old wive’s tale that Europe has less alcoholism. Please cite just one piece of research evidence for this claim. I think you will find that norther Europe especially has massive problems associated with drinking.

#20 Comment By rory On August 19, 2008 @ 11:22 am

oh the irony of the two above posts being cross-posted…

#21 Comment By David Kane On August 19, 2008 @ 12:09 pm


Yes, it was federal pressure/extortion that forced most/all states to move their drinking age to 21. That’s why my suggestion (for Massachusetts) focuses on an amendment to the state constitution. The Feds can (and probably will) still threaten to cut off highway/other funds, but an amendment prevents (I hope) the MA legislature from caving in to that pressure.

#22 Comment By hwc On August 19, 2008 @ 12:21 pm

High school binge drinking data from the 700 page Monitoring the Future Report (5 meg PDF)

Note that drinking age declined nationally in the early 1970s and that Congress passed the law forcing all states to go to 21 years old or forfeit federal highway funds in 1984.

% of 12-graders binge drinking in 2 weeks prior to survey:

1975: 36.8%
1980: 41.2%
1985: 36.7%
1990: 32.2%
2006: 25.4%

#23 Comment By Soph Mom On August 19, 2008 @ 12:31 pm

Yeah, but hwc, isn’t it interesting how your ‘facts’ differ from others, and always serve the ‘hwc agenda?

You must be loads of fun at a dinner party, ….yeah I can see it now…

“Hold the main course…and the warm and lively discussion currently flowing around the table while I go google up the appropriate data to make me ‘right’ and ‘you’ wrong. Perhaps instead of a centerpiece or salad plate, you have the laptop?

Or loads of fun on the golf course…course that would probably be impossible unless you can swing and google at the same time…

What in heavens name, happens when you run into someone at the supermarket? Complicated, eh hwc? No discussions possible without your veritable armor of facts and stats.

To be honest, hwc, it is less that your facts are so irksome as your continuous habit of retreiving and applying them regardless of whether they are applicable. In thread after thread, I have seen you completely miss valid and intelligent argument for the sake of your beloved data and that poor dull axe you drag everywhere you go.

#24 Comment By bfleming On August 19, 2008 @ 12:32 pm

Yes, it was federal pressure/extortion that forced most/all states to move their drinking age to 21. That’s why my suggestion (for Massachusetts) focuses on an amendment to the state constitution. The Feds can (and probably will) still threaten to cut off highway/other funds, but an amendment prevents (I hope) the MA legislature from caving in to that pressure.

The Federal Highway Administration’s Massachusetts Division has a stats page, and the latest year for which they have numbers seems to be FY2002. That’s ridiculous, but hey. In FY2002, federal aid apportionments were more than $533 million. Now, I bet a lot of that was Big Dig-related, but that’s still a lot of money.

#25 Comment By rory On August 19, 2008 @ 12:40 pm

how does that compare to overall trends in alcohol consumption patterns? all you’ve done is showed another correlation that doesn’t prove anything.

#26 Comment By hwc On August 19, 2008 @ 1:00 pm

soph mom:

I see you’ve gone the ad hominem attack route, perhaps as a distraction while you continue to hunt for that report you promised.

Meanwhile, I’m giving you the two most recognized primary source survey research on high school and college drinking, the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Survey and the University of Michigan Monitoring the Future longitudinal surveys.

Sorry if the best available facts don’t fit your agenda. It is what it is and lashing out at the messenger isn’t going to change it.

BTW, I’m a ball of fun on the golf course. I learned how to put a six pack and some ice in the accessory pocket of my golf bag at the Taconic.

#27 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On August 19, 2008 @ 1:00 pm

#28 Comment By hwc On August 19, 2008 @ 1:13 pm


Better watch the quality of your citations. David Hansen has been shilling for the alcohol companies for decades.

From the website you cited above:

“The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, Inc. provided an unrestricted grant that was used to fund this web site, for which funding also was received from other sources.”

Speaking of which, I wonder if the Distilled Spirits Council (aka Seagram’s) also provided an unrestricted grant to this Amethyst Initiative. I notice that their website is surprisingly mum on the subject of their funding, what with academics and college presidents usually stressing the importance of honest disclosure.

#29 Comment By Soph Mom On August 19, 2008 @ 1:25 pm


B.S. to you and your accusations of an ad hominem attack on my part. Chotch provided the material, which you of course, probably didn’t bother to read.

And again, hwc, AGAIN, you choose to completely miss my point, and many others. The post that Ben made was much more complex and interesting (than the direction you have taken the thread) in that it touched on deeper issues than your stats raise…on the issues ‘underneath’ the drinking problem.

But hey, I need to go to work anyway, so have at it, Mr. ‘Facts and Stats’. It will remain a mystery to me what purpose or enjoyment an argument like yours serves, when all it seems to accomplish is making you ‘right’.

#30 Comment By rory On August 19, 2008 @ 1:52 pm


that sword cuts both ways…guess who funds your studies?

more importantly, the overall trend in alcohol consumption mirrors that of youth: http://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(08)00263-5/abstract

in addition, while you doubt hanson, his table here is from a reliable source:

hey look here’s more:

i recommend the graph about 2/3 of the way down.

*inserts Loweeeel’s correct and timely assertion that correlation is not causation*

#31 Comment By Soph Mom On August 19, 2008 @ 2:00 pm

Ahhhh….now that’s a much better note on which to bid adieu and go to work.

Thank you Rory and Ken…and my clients thank you, too…

(Too bad I can’t have a ‘drink’ as well)

#32 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On August 19, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

hwc: Respectfully, I made no representation with regards to the accuracy or validity, much less ‘interpretation,’ factual or otherwise, of the linked reference materials. They simply “are:” make of them what you will. (As Marshall McLuhan might have put it, “their form is the content.”)

#33 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On August 19, 2008 @ 2:12 pm

EE: Sweden. Finland. Scotland, Wales and England. The Netherlands. Ukraine. (Etc.). The “abuse” of alcohol, and its link to what is called “asocial behavior” etc., seems highly cultural in nature– not to ignore its clear genetic components.

#34 Comment By hwc On August 19, 2008 @ 2:28 pm


I know you didn’t I just wanted to point out that the site you referenced is operated by long-time paid shill of the liquor industry.


Your links are kind of weird. The first one survey nobody born after 1959, so I’m not sure the relevance.

The third one actually supports the correlation of the increased drinking age with wih reduced consumption. It shows per capita consumption of alcohol increasing from the repeal of prohibition to a peak in 1980, followed by a significant and steady decline. It is well known that drinking by young people accounts for a disporportionately high percentage of all alcohol sales, so it would be logical to consider that the increase in legal age contribtes to the decline in per capita consumption. I would also surmise that the imposition of serious DUI penalties plays a role.

#35 Comment By hwc On August 19, 2008 @ 2:30 pm

The “abuse” of alcohol, and its link to what is called “asocial behavior” etc., seems highly cultural in nature– not to ignore its clear genetic components.

It’s cultural/genetic among young people, too. White college students binge drink at much, much higher rates than Latino/a, Asian American, and African American students.

#36 Comment By Anon ’89er On August 19, 2008 @ 2:48 pm

There has got to be cultural and class angles on this as well. In an increasingly class-stratified society you get a fair bit of binge drinking by cohorts of young people who are either excluded from social advancement, or who are in a liminal state of social group formation.

Which is to say that unemployed football fans and university students and in Britain are binge drinkers par excellence. The French, not so much, in spite of roughly similar social environments and pressures. Whatever the reason (where is a cultural anthropologist when you really need one?), don’t look to transportation policy for an answer.

#37 Comment By hwc On August 19, 2008 @ 2:54 pm

One point to soph mom:

You say that I present selective facts to support my position. I bet you don’t even know my position on open availability of alcohol at social functions on college campuses.

It might surprise you if you ever got past the name-calling to ask.

#38 Comment By rory On August 19, 2008 @ 2:54 pm


my links weren’t “weird” they were actually quite compelling. but sadly, my post that explained that in detail was deleted by the fickle email. In short: the first link shows that alcohol consumption trended down not only for 18-21 year olds (who were affected by legal changes) BUT ALSO AT THE SAME TIME older cohorts.

Combined with link 3, that challenges your argument that the overall graph is mostly showing the effect of a drop in youth drinking. Plus, you overlook the second link, which is really compelling–unless you think the restriction of alcohol from a small segment of the population accounts for a drop of roughly 15-20%. Plus, you’d still have to explain the continued drop between 1990-2000.

The real point of it all was simple: showing a statistics that shows that the drinking of a subpopulation has changed NEEDS to be placed in the context of the entire population. Not doing so makes statistics either incomplete (at best) or misleading (at worst).

#39 Comment By PTC On August 19, 2008 @ 4:04 pm

I know people in England drink a hell of a lot, and get good and drunk, often. You know, you never really have lived, until you end up in some social club in London with the 1 D&D, your pants around your ankles singing silly songs with the Brits. God bless them and their silly Churchillian customs!

That said; make it legal for people on base in the service. Easily controlled and a great recruiting tool… You know, the whole Starship Troopers thing- you too, can be a citizen!

“Don’t speak to me about Naval Tradition, it is but rum, sodomy, and the lash”- Winston Churchill.

#40 Comment By azj ’04 On August 19, 2008 @ 4:34 pm

HWC, I’m puzzled by why you think your statistics are so relevant.

You provide data that suggests that binge drinking in high school is highly correlated with binge drinking in college.
Ok, I’ll buy this correlation. High school binge drinking is bad.

But that doesn’t mean the answer is for parents to forbid their high-school age children from drinking and refusing to even discuss the issue with them. And your statistics have nothing to say about this, so they have nothing to do with the article Soph Mom was suggesting she had read.

Perhaps if you provided data that showed a correlation between any alcohol consumption in high school with binge drinking, you would have a point.

#41 Comment By Will Slack ’11 On August 19, 2008 @ 5:24 pm

HWC, the drinking in and of itself isn’t the issue.

The problems come as results of drinking – accidents, alcohol poisoning, and drunk driving to name a few.

If your goal is to reduce drinking rates by themselves, then prohibition is certainly the best way to go. However, the implications of that policy are much wider than binging rates.

#42 Comment By PTC On August 19, 2008 @ 6:20 pm

Dick- There has to be a Soph mom hwc Photoshop somewhere in all of this, complete with a Normal Rockwell freckled kid, a bottle of Seagram’s, mom, apple pie, Chevrolet and vomit. Use your imagination.

With a Williams shirt on, of course.

#43 Comment By hwc On August 19, 2008 @ 6:41 pm

And your statistics have nothing to say about this, so they have nothing to do with the article Soph Mom was suggesting she had read.

The data I have presented is hardly intended to refute some imaginary article that Soph Mom thinks she may have read, but cannot produce.

The data I present is intended to help people consider the possibility that the increasing the drinking age back to the tradtiional 21 has indeed contributed to, or at least been correlated with, signficant reductions in high school drinking and high school binge drinking. Again, that’s without even going into the impact on teen drunk driving.

There is this urban legend, always presented without evidence, that students wouldn’t binge drink if only their doting parents bought them booze and “taught them how to drink”. I’m waiting for anyone to present the first shred of empirical support for this contention. In the meantime, I will continue to present hard evidence that teenage drinking has been reduced since the experiement with an 18 year old drinking age was ended in 1984.

#44 Comment By hwc On August 19, 2008 @ 6:47 pm

Perhaps if you provided data that showed a correlation between any alcohol consumption in high school with binge drinking, you would have a point.

There is 100% correlation between students who have never consumed alcohol in high school and those who have never binged in high school.

I love how 20-somethings are just full of parenting advice for those of us who have successfully raised teenage/college kids and navigate the choppy waters of teen driving and teen drinking. Get back to me when you’ve given the keys to your family car to YOUR 17 year old son or daughter and wondered if they would get home safely at 2 am or if, god forbid, you would get the call no parent can endure.

#45 Comment By 1980 On August 19, 2008 @ 7:02 pm

OK, I will stipulate that teenage drinking is down since the 21 law went into effect. It’s harder for 15 and 16 year olds to get access to alcohol which I think most would agree is a good thing.

What the 21 law has also led to is the pre-gaming phenemenon. Maybe pre-gaming was around in some form back in the day too, but on many college campuses it now pre-gaming on steroids, since the underage students assume they won’t have access to alcohol again once they go out for the evening. That’s one form of binge drinking.

Overall there’s a lot more drinking going on behind closed doors on college campuses. I think that’s scary – and I think many of those college presidents probably do too.

So, hwc, what is your stance on open access to alcohol at college parties (referenced above)?

#46 Comment By Soph Mom On August 19, 2008 @ 7:02 pm


You accuse me of name-calling and then basically call me a liar?
Of reading an ‘imaginary’ article? Do you even bother to read the thread? The other comments?

No one else need call you names, hwc. You do a very good job of showing exactly who you are, all on your own.

#47 Comment By PTC On August 19, 2008 @ 7:16 pm

1980- Ever drink in Vermont to be of age during your time at Williams? Rogers Roost? The Ramada? The Daquiri Factory? How about after hours in NY? Back Street? T Bones? Lol. Good god.

Personally, I think we should lower the age to 18 just so we can see young adults out and about again. However, make no mistake about it, an 18 year old age will lead to more drinking by younger people, not less. Not that that is a bad thing.

#48 Comment By PTC On August 19, 2008 @ 7:22 pm

I believe this was my very first thread on Ephblog… no longer lost in the anals of history.


#49 Comment By 1980 On August 19, 2008 @ 7:22 pm

PTC, no need to go to VT to be of age back in my day – the law was still 18 in MA then (I think it changed in 1984). Rogers Roost does ring a bell …

#50 Comment By current eph On August 19, 2008 @ 7:33 pm

I thought drinking was legal at 18 on military bases. It’s not?

Also, I’ve lived in Europe, and I’m not convinced there’s less drinking. There’s a different sort of drinking, but less…I’m not so sure. There is, however, without a doubt, less driving. People walk/bike longer distances, and take public transportation far more frequently.

#51 Comment By current eph On August 19, 2008 @ 7:58 pm

I also agree with PTC (I just read his most recent post). Lowering the drinking age will likely lead to more drinking among 18-21 year olds. However, that is not the issue, and that is why “binge drinking” statistics are not an especially helpful statistic in determining whether or not to lower the drinking age. The issue, instead, is whether the 21 drinking age raises pre-gaming rates among 18-21 year olds. A student who pre-games will often drink (or at least report drinking) the same number of drinks as one who drinks at a party, albeit in a far far shorter period of time. Consequently, 20 years ago pre-gaming may have been virtually nonexistent, or it might have been through the roof–binge drinking statistics wouldn’t reliably reveal that.

I doubt anyone here seriously believes that a lower drinking age means less drinking, and similarly, I doubt that anyone here believes that a lower drinking age means more pre-gaming. It’s a trade-off…probably a 21-year-old drinking age leads to lower binge drinking rates, and thus marginally smaller drunk driving rates and marginally smaller alcoholism rates. An 18-year-old drinking age means slight increases in all of the above, but significant decreases in teen alcohol poisoning. Personally, I think it’s unclear which policy decision would result in fewer fatalities/injuries….so I think the best route would be an 18-year-old drinking age. With a slight alcohol tax (increase?), we could use the increase revenue to put more drunk driving stops on the road, and hopefully bring drunk driving down rates to where they would be with a 21-year-old drinking age.

#52 Comment By hwc On August 19, 2008 @ 7:59 pm

Of reading an ‘imaginary’ article? Do you even bother to read the thread? The other comments?

What do the other comments on the thread have to do with your failure to produce this mythical article proving that college binge drinkers come from households that didn’t educate about booze?

So, hwc, what is your stance on open access to alcohol at college parties (referenced above)?

My daughter’s College had open access to free or nearly-free alcohol by all students at virtually every all-campus party every weekend plus $4 pub night with kegs, open to all students on Thursday nights at 10 pm.

I thought the widespread availabilty of alcohol for those particular students at that particular college, averaging between 0 and 3 alcohol transports per year during the last five years. However, that is a campus with a many factors that correlate with low binge drinking rates and a campus where only 10% of the students have an on-campus parking permit.

I would not be in favor of changing the system at that particular school, but I recognize that different schools face different challenges.

#53 Comment By micae On August 19, 2008 @ 8:00 pm


Having read your posts, as well of those of the other parents and yes, those 20-somethings, may I offer one 17-year old’s perspective as she heads off to Williams next week? It might not fulfill your call for empirical evidence, as one is a pretty small sample size, but it does add a concrete, Eph-inflected voice to the article Chotch cites.

I was raised in a home in which small quantities of alcohol were regularly consumed as part of the social and sensual experience of our meals. I had my first sips of wine when I was quite small, and since developing an appreciation for its flavor, have regularly enjoyed a glass with dinner. I’ve been taught through example and application that alcohol (when taken in moderation) can enrich good food and company, and I therefore see no need to drink to excess. When I go to a party, I don’t want to overindulge. A glass or tacky cup of a drink I enjoy can be nursed all night. I’ve never been drunk, yet I began drinking at a much younger age than most of my hard-partying friends. Many of these teen binge drinkers believe that alcohol constitutes a rebellion, and also that it is a means to an end, a quick way to get wasted rather than an experience in itself. I know better, and I credit my parents.

I do believe that it would be dangerous to eliminate the drinking age altogether, because of the current attitude towards alcohol as a kind of forbidden fruit. Offer it up unrestricted now, and it will undoubtedly be abused at great cost to the lives of young and old. But I hope and believe the attitudes I speak of can be ameliorated by the wisdom of parents. As our youth culture develops a more healthful, moderate attitude towards drink, rather than shifting to the poles of either extreme abstinence (when not connected with a history of alcoholism) or extreme indulgence, I think we may safely and happily hope to lower the drinking age.

#54 Comment By Will Slack ’11 On August 19, 2008 @ 8:09 pm


I love how 20-somethings are just full of parenting advice for those of us who have successfully raised teenage/college kids and navigate the choppy waters of teen driving and teen drinking.

HWC, I think you’re not listening to us. We’re not dictating how you should raise your kids, or what the best parenting is in these situations (though I would argue that my perspective has some value that yours cannot achieve in this area.)

We’re talking about a policy change – please don’t make it about personal decisions. This idea isn’t about about your family; it’s about everyone’s family. Those college presidents have kids too.

#55 Comment By hwc On August 19, 2008 @ 8:16 pm

Those college presidents have kids too.

Yep. Morty has one in college right now. That may well have entered into his decision not to support this initiative.

#56 Comment By hwc On August 19, 2008 @ 8:19 pm

Yikes, that editing didn’t work. I meant to say:

I thought the widespread availabilty of alcohol for those particular students at that particular college, averaging between 0 and 3 alcohol transports per year during the last five years, worked well. However, that is a campus with a many factors that correlate with low binge drinking rates and a campus where only 10% of the students have an on-campus parking permit.

#57 Comment By PTC On August 19, 2008 @ 8:22 pm

Current- The age is 21.

#58 Comment By rory On August 19, 2008 @ 8:48 pm


chotch found the article many, many replies ago. Further, no one is giving you parenting advice. cmon. stop completely misrepresenting what people are writing.

(further, your use of the term “correlation” is absolutely wrong. it’s quite frustrating, actually)

#59 Comment By Soph Mom On August 19, 2008 @ 8:58 pm

Here you go hwc…Harvard professors and all. Instead of linking I post the entire article for all to enjoy and a better chance that you might actually read it. Oh, and Chotch’s material is compelling as well.(BTW, thanks Chotch)

Furthermore, if you ever call me a liar again, I will tell you what I really think of you, no holding back.

Can Sips at Home Prevent Binges?”

Published: March 26, 2008

PARENTS always want to share their passions with their children. Whether you’re a fan of baseball or the blues, sailing or tinkering with old cars, few things are as rewarding as seeing a spark of receptivity in the eyes of the next generation.

It usually doesn’t take. Most of the time kids — teenagers, anyway — would as soon snicker at their old man’s obsessions as indulge him. Even so, I can’t help hoping that my sons might share my taste in music and food, books and movies, ball teams and politics. Why should wine be any different?

It’s the alcohol, of course, which makes wine not just tricky but potentially hazardous. Nonetheless, I would like to teach my sons — 16 and 17 — that wine is a wonderful part of a meal. I want to teach them to enjoy it while also drumming it into them that when abused, wine, like any other alcoholic beverage, can be a grave danger.

As they were growing up I occasionally gave them tastes from my glass — an unusual wine, perhaps, or a taste of Champagne on New Year’s Eve. They’ve had sips at Seders and they see wine nightly at our dinner table. With both boys now in high school, I thought it was time to offer them the option of small tastes at dinner.

In European wine regions, a new parent might dip a finger in the local pride and wipe it lovingly across an infant’s lips — “just to give the taste.” A child at the family table might have a spoonful of wine added to the water, because it says, “You are one of us.” A teenager might have a small glass of wine, introducing an adult pleasure in a safe and supervised manner. This is how I imagined it in my house.

But about a year ago, my wife attended a gathering on the Upper East Side sponsored by several high schools addressing the topic of teenagers and alcohol.

The highly charged discussion centered on the real dangers of binge drinking and peer pressure, of brain damage and parental over-permissiveness, and of the law.

One authority disparaged the European model, saying that teenage drinking in Europe — never mind which part — is much worse than it is in the United States. The underlying message was that nothing good comes from mixing alcohol and teenagers.

My wife was shaken. We agreed to hold off on the tasting plan. But I decided to try to get some answers myself.

I found ample evidence of the dangers of abusive drinking. Recent studies have shown that heavy drinking does more damage to the teenage brain than previously suspected, while the part of the brain responsible for judgment is not even fully formed until the age of 25.

“If we were to argue that responsible drinking requires a responsible brain, theoretically we wouldn’t introduce alcohol until 25,” said Dr. Ralph I. Lopez, a clinical professor of pediatrics at Weill-Cornell Medical College who specializes in adolescents.

The law specifies 21 as the age when people can buy and drink alcohol. Bill Crowley, a spokesman for the New York State Liquor Authority, confirmed that it was illegal to give anyone underage a taste of an alcoholic beverage in a restaurant, cafe or bar. But in the home?

“We don’t have any jurisdiction over what happens in the home,” Mr. Crowley said. Of course, each state’s laws differ, and lack of jurisdiction doesn’t mean immunity. The police or social service agencies could intervene if underage bingeing were encouraged in the home. And when driving is a factor, everything changes. But inside the home, the law, at least, seems to permit the small tastes that I had in mind.

Even so, are small tastes justified? Abundant research shows the dangers of heavy drinking and the necessity of getting help with teenage alcohol abuse. But little guidance is offered on teaching teenagers about the pleasures of wine with a meal.

It would be easy to preach abstinence to children until they’re 21, but is it naive and even irresponsible to think that teenagers won’t experiment? Might forbidding even a taste of wine with a meal actually encourage secrecy and recklessness?

Some experts think so. Dr. Lopez began to offer his daughter a little wine at dinner when she was 13.

“You have to look at a family and decide where alcohol fits,” he said. “If you demonstrate the beauty of wine, just as you would Grandma’s special pie, then it augments a meal. However, if there is an issue about drinking within a family then it’s a different situation.”

If a family member had an alcohol problem, or if cocktails were served regularly for relaxation, he said, “That’s a different message than wine at the table.”

I called Dr. Paul Steinberg, a psychiatrist in Washington, who is the former director of counseling at Georgetown University.

“The best evidence shows that teaching kids to drink responsibly is better than shutting them off entirely from it,” he told me. “You want to introduce your kids to it, and get across the point that that this is to be enjoyed but not abused.”

He said that the most dangerous day of a young person’s life is the 21st birthday, when legality is celebrated all too fervently. Introducing wine as a part of a meal, he said, was a significant protection against bingeing behavior.

What is the evidence? In 1983, Dr. George E. Vaillant, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, published “The Natural History of Alcoholism,” a landmark work that drew on a 40-year survey of hundreds of men in Boston and Cambridge.

Dr. Vaillant compared 136 men who were alcoholics with men who were not. Those who grew up in families where alcohol was forbidden at the table, but was consumed away from the home, apart from food, were seven times more likely to be alcoholics that those who came from families where wine was served with meals but drunkenness was not tolerated.

He concluded that teenagers should be taught to enjoy wine with family meals, and 25 years later Dr. Vaillant stands by his recommendation. “The theoretical position is: driving a car, shooting a rifle, using alcohol are all dangerous activities,” he told me, “and the way you teach responsibility is to let parents teach appropriate use.”

“If you are taught to drink in a ceremonial way with food, then the purpose of alcohol is taste and celebration, not inebriation,” he added. “If you are forbidden to use it until college then you drink to get drunk.”

In a more recent study of 80 teenagers and 80 young adults in Italy, Lee Strunin, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, found that drinking wine in a family setting offered some protection against bingeing and may encourage moderate drinking. But she cautioned against extrapolating from Italy to the United States.

Her colleague, David Rosenbloom, director of the School of Public Health’s Youth Alcohol Prevention Center, emphasized that family context was crucial. “Does the kid see the parents drunk?” he asked. “Does the kid understand expectations? Is there violence in the family setting?”

“It is certainly possible that in some family contexts the introduction of wine at family dinners could have a mild protective factor,” he said, adding that he believes that expecting abstinence is a perfectly reasonable parental position.

In the best of all possible worlds, I suppose, young adults would not touch alcohol until they turn 25 and then would instantly understand the pleasures of moderate consumption. It seems to me as silly to imagine that as it is to expect the same at 21.

Although the issue is not settled in my household, my cautious opinion now is that my teenage sons have more to gain than to lose by having a taste of wine now and then with dinner. By taste, I mean just that: a couple of sips, perhaps, not a full glass, and decidedly not for any of their friends, whose own parents must make their own decisions.

The years between ages 15 and 25 are dangerous straits, and it doesn’t help to know that alcohol is associated with many of the hazards young adults face. Finding that sweet spot between sanctimony and self-centered frivolity is a parent’s job. I think I’m there, but it’s not quite comfortable.

#60 Comment By Soph Mom On August 19, 2008 @ 9:10 pm

Here is the actual link to the New York Times for source data.

#61 Comment By hwc On August 19, 2008 @ 9:22 pm

Typical New York Times pablum. A father wanting to pressure his teenage children to adopt his own alcohol use (in the form of “wine appreciation”).

I don’t see any evidence in the article that teenage drinking reduces college binge drinking, college black outs, or college alcohol poisoning transports.

I’ve already provided you the data that shows high school binge drinkers are twice as likely to be college binge drinkers and four times more likely to be frequent binge drinkers.

#62 Comment By rory On August 19, 2008 @ 9:31 pm

jesus, hwc, did you even read it…

“In a more recent study of 80 teenagers and 80 young adults in Italy, Lee Strunin, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, found that drinking wine in a family setting offered some protection against bingeing and may encourage moderate drinking. But she cautioned against extrapolating from Italy to the United States.”

“What is the evidence? In 1983, Dr. George E. Vaillant, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, published “The Natural History of Alcoholism,” a landmark work that drew on a 40-year survey of hundreds of men in Boston and Cambridge.

Dr. Vaillant compared 136 men who were alcoholics with men who were not. Those who grew up in families where alcohol was forbidden at the table, but was consumed away from the home, apart from food, were seven times more likely to be alcoholics that those who came from families where wine was served with meals but drunkenness was not tolerated.”

#63 Comment By JG On August 19, 2008 @ 9:36 pm

All I can say is that Soph Mom’s imagination is a pretty damn good writer.

#64 Comment By Soph Mom On August 19, 2008 @ 9:42 pm

From the very beginning, hwc, I based my comment on an article. I never professed to have ‘proof’.

However, I will take the word of published Harvard professors, Georgetown University psychiatrists, professors of pediatrics from Weill-Cornell, and directors of the School of Public Health’s Youth Alcohol Prevention Center, any old day…

…over the load of unsubstantiated, soul-less, negative pile of crap which you dish up.., which ultimately only serves to fortify the soul-less, negative, pathetically sad viewpoint you live by.

#65 Comment By Parent ’12 On August 19, 2008 @ 9:50 pm

Just some civility: Thank you Soph Mom for giving the citation. I remember reading the article & I’m certain if someone had the energy, the original studies & their journal sources could be found.

-aka Pre-Frosh Mom

#66 Comment By hwc On August 19, 2008 @ 9:57 pm

The topic is not wine with dinner. The topic is reducing the legal age of drinking from 21 to 18 years old.

Whether a New York Times writer or 80 families in Italy or 136 Boston men over forty years drank wine with dinner is, perhaps interesting, but of little relevance to high school and college binge drinking and even less relevance to teenage drunk driving.

#67 Comment By Soph Mom On August 19, 2008 @ 10:20 pm

Oh, now the topic must only have to do with “reducing the legal age”?
After you baited, insulted, and dared me to come up with my ‘imaginary’ article?

At some point, hwc, after you have fortified yourself with a ‘good strong whiskey’, I dare you to re-read this thread from start to finish.

You obviously have no idea how foolish you appear.

#68 Comment By Will Slack ’11 On August 19, 2008 @ 10:36 pm

HWC – I’m having a hard time understanding why you brought up parental methods in an earlier comment, if the topic doesn’t involve a way to introduce children to alcohol.

For my own part, I think the biggest indicator of a random child drinking/drinking to excess is the behavior (not the rules) of the parents.

Regardless, I’d like to request civility for the sake of everyone ELSE in the thread beyond a particular comment’s target.

I think HWC’s argument is simply that lowering the drinking age will increase high school drinking, which will increase high school binge drinking, which will increase college binge drinking, as well as the related issues in driving and such.

HWC, here’s an expanded version of my earlier argument, which has to do with the early thoughts on parenting.

The negative effects of alcohol come from a variety of sources, but they are all related to a lack of knowledge/self-awareness when drinking (“I haven’t had enough that I can’t drive,” “I haven’t hit my limit yet,” “This mix of drinks is and won’t cause me harm.”)

So the goal of any policy aimed at reducing injuries and deaths from drinking should be double: Restricting the total amount of drinking, and insuring that those who do drink have the knowledge to avoid ending up behind the wheel or laying on a lawn somewhere (like, in a completely random example, the Berkshire Quad).

While lowering the age to 18 will cause a policy setback for the first goal, the college presidents (and I) believe that the second will be advanced such that the setback to the first will be countered.

#69 Comment By Soph Mom On August 19, 2008 @ 10:40 pm

To Parent ’12:

Nice to see you. Thanks so much for your comment.

I truly apologize for the tone of the thread. It makes me very sad as it represents the worst of EB; which is: argument that goes nowhere, discussion with few insights, and contention for contention’s sake. Thank goodness, it isn’t always like this.

But another woman for EB, (a mom at that!) is such good news…so “welcome”! I look forward to hearing your voice!

#70 Comment By jeff s On August 19, 2008 @ 10:46 pm

This is making me misty eyed for our dust up over the NYT editorial page with Mr. Blatt a few weeks back.

I love folks who dismiss anything reported in the NYT out of hand. That may get applause in some circles, but I think it speaks volumes about one’s mindset and ability to reason.

Using the above approach without supporting detail to dismiss the views of others would, I hope, get an “F” in any tutorial. I will also admit to falling into similar traps when making my case to those who are wrong, I mean at variance from my own views. But I hope not to the extent above.

I have fond memories Williams before and after the last 20+ keg all campus party that began the long slow crackdown. Unfortunately, I missed the heyday of the Log but was fortunate to visit my older brother to see what a wonderful social venue it was when 90% of students were legal or at least everyone turned a blind eye.

I think Williams has lost something unique in this process. I am unconvinced that the crackdown in Williamstown via Chief Zito and his successors and the seemingly reluctant reforms from within the college have achieved anything in return.

A punitive system that punishes underage drinking at colleges like Williams increases pregaming activity and provides a disincentive to seek help when it might be needed. A dangerous brew indeed!

#71 Comment By PTC On August 19, 2008 @ 10:58 pm

Soph mom- Actually, I think the arguments here always go places. They do not always reveal things we would like to see in ourselves or others, but what would be the point if we did not work the fringe and the edges to expose some raw nerves. It would be really boring. People disagree, and it is fun to have an open and honest debate. No worries. Whatever issues you have with the other bloggers in here, well, there is always Photoshop. One day we’ll all have a party and laugh about it. No one is getting hurt. We are all famous!

One day perhaps, we will all get together and drink some wine. I am all for it.

By the way, I’d appreciate your vote.

#72 Comment By Ronit On August 19, 2008 @ 11:41 pm

Bring back dueling! Ban blog arguments!

#73 Comment By PTC On August 19, 2008 @ 11:55 pm

How about a shot a min. Hwc V soph mom- first one to throw up on their Williams T shirt loses? Winner gets the shirt. That or keg stands until…

My money is on Soph mom.

Any takers?

#74 Comment By Rechtal Turgidley, Jr. On August 19, 2008 @ 11:59 pm

I don’t understand these argument at all.

Both the Rechtal’s and the Turgidley’s have always had open bars in their homes. And autos. One drank, one drove. College was an extension of this lifestyle, except one couldn’t have a car on campus as a freshman or a sophomore.

I won’t get into whether milk punch is a suitable beverage. That was discussed by Swart and numerous others in past months.

I believe that President Shapiro is quite correct in not even broaching subjects determined by the legislative process. A ‘blind eye’ has worked well for many years during the student learning curve for the use of alcoholic beverages. On campus, it is the social situation that informs accepted paths.

At the risk of sounding the Uible tocsin, “Bring ba …..”

Rechtal Turgidley, Jr
Quark Island, Maine

#75 Comment By ronit On August 20, 2008 @ 12:01 am

In Frank Uible’s day, they would have settled it like men, with a game of chicken played with two fast cars (this is based on original research, ie every depiction of the 1950s on screen that I have ever seen).

#76 Comment By David Broadband On August 20, 2008 @ 3:17 am

Intemperate behavior challenges our resistance to authority. Drinking exemplifies our outright right to the outrage of dis-empowerment. When we lack the personal resolve of sovereignty, we address our outrage with acts of self-destructive mind-altering substances.

Age is not a factor outside of biological development. We institute regulation to control populations.

Alcohol is the acceptable substance abuse agent of choice for intemperate behavior precisely because we accept its ritual relevance within our society.

The question we need to ask is: “How de we address independence and more importantly the issue of individual sovereignty within accepted societal norms and our place within it while advancing towards accountability and responsibility?”

We nee to ask: “What are we willing to tolerate within acceptable means in achieving this without a burden to our health and safety?”

The profound interest in numerous avenues of diversion in which we find ourselves demands the acquiescence of society in accepting mood altering substances in order to address the neuroses we find ourselves in.

Another beer will resolve the question that begs an answer.

#77 Comment By Soph Mom On August 20, 2008 @ 12:21 pm

Okay…I just re-read this entire thread (albeit with a strong cup of coffee instead of a whiskey), and I would like to offer a few thoughts.

If this discussion accomplishes anything, I would hope that it might be a reference of sorts for all of you who will at some point, (as hwc so aptly described), “navigate the choppy waters of teen driving and teen drinking.” IMO, it is the scariest and most tenuous phases of child-rearing. And though, most of us, at one level or another, have personally experienced the ‘initiation rites’ of teen drinking, I can tell you that being on the parental side of it, is the bigger hurdle. On this small point, I wager hwc and I might even agree. And though we obviously differ in how to parent on this issue, I sincerely hope that we both have (and continue to have) in common, the outcome of safe and responsible behavior in our children.

In our family, we do approach alcohol in much the same way as Asimov outlines in his article (and as presented in Chotch’s link), and as described in the comment by ‘micae’. From about middle school on, we made a point of regularly discussing alcohol, drugs and sex. We left few stones unturned (at times much to the chagrin of the kids) on all three of those subjects. We approached these discussions with the idea that all of these things would be available, and possibly experimented with. We discouraged experimentation, but also laid the groundwork for the ‘what if’ situations.

Blessedly, drugs were less the issue in our small town. And having experienced the 70’s, and the fallout from that particular era, I was grateful for this. However, alcohol, and driving under the influence, is a local problem, and so, on this, we put particular focus.

We not only had a lot of discussions with the kids, we also sat down with other parents. And even though we differed on the particulars of ‘how and when’ (regarding experimentation), we all recognized the likelihood that most of our kids would, at some point be tempted. We all shared the same paralyzing fears.

We made a pact (of sorts) about driving; a unified decision, if you will, to reiterate, over and over, the importance of never getting into a car if alcohol had been consumed. We told the kids that if the situation arose, they could call any one of us, at any time, and a ride would be immediately provided, no questions asked. We each of us made ourselves available for each other’s kids, recognizing that there were times in which a call to a parent other than one’s own, might be easier. We almost ‘exaggeratedly’ enforced this same behavior in ourselves…making a verbal and obvious point of deciding before going out, who would be abstaining for the evening…who would be the ‘designated driver’.

Now I know that a lot of people might look at this as enabling. But to us, it just seemed realistic. And I am happy to say, that in these particular efforts, we feel we have accomplished something. The kids home for the summer are drinking…but they always designate a driver, or occasionally, they even stay put for the night. And after one year of college, I see an admirable level of responsibility and maturity as regards ‘partying and alcohol’.

I think that freshmen year was yet an adjustment, particularly for my frosh. The lack of driving, along with the newfound freedom of being away from home, probably encouraged a bit of over-indulging. But I believe…I hope and pray…that a solid foundation was built.

As far as lowering the legal age, my feeling is that they are drinking anyway. And I agree with Jeff that it just seems absurd that 18 year olds are expected to vote, and go off to war, but aren’t allowed to legally drink. And in some way I can’t yet explain, I think that lowering the legal age will allow the door to open to a more realistic approach to best instill safe and responsible drinking at an early age.

#78 Comment By hwc On August 20, 2008 @ 1:59 pm

I think HWC’s argument is simply that lowering the drinking age will increase high school drinking, which will increase high school binge drinking, which will increase college binge drinking, as well as the related issues in driving and such.

Actually, my point was not to advocate for any particular approach. Note that I have not done so. Instead, my point was to counteract the “conventional wisdom” that the 21 year old drinking age isn’t working. I counteracted this assumption by offering solid research data from the most signficant surveys in the field of youth drinking that suggests there is very real benefit in the reduction of high school drinking and that the 21 year age limit has done just that. My point, simply put, is don’t reject the benefits of the higher drinking age just because it puts colleges in an awkward spot.

As for drinking challenges, I will just go ahead and concede. My wife and I took four St. Pauli Girls to the Cowboy Junkies concert a few weeks back. We each drank one, left the other two in the cooler and switched to coffee. A big night of drinking for me is one drink before dinner and a glass of wine with dinner. I like my Vintage Port collection. I enjoy a good single malt Scotch wiskey. I like wine. But, my wife and I just don’t drink much.

As for teenage drinking and driving. I had the same “call me anytime anywhere you need a ride” policy with my daughter. I also had a discussion the day she got her license about a zero tolerance policy. One instance of driving after any drinking or getting in a car with a drinking driver would be the end of her driving on my dime. The insurance would be cancelled the next day.

It was also one of “Dad’s 5 Rules for College” aka worry about the big picture and don’t sweat the small stuff:

1) Don’t flunk out

2) Don’t get arrested

3) Never get in a car with a driver who has been drinking

4) Don’t get pregnant

5) Don’t get HIV-positive

#79 Comment By frank uible On August 20, 2008 @ 2:41 pm

Eighteen year olds can vote, eighteen year olds can serve in the military, eighteen year olds can marry, a plea is being made to permit eighteen year olds to drink legally, but it is impermissible for any Williams student to form social relationships in any manner he or she damn well pleases. Bring back….

#80 Comment By Soph Mom On August 20, 2008 @ 2:49 pm


It sounds as if we share more in common than presupposed.

Our liquor cabinets and drinking habits, as well as our ‘going away to college rules’, are almost interchangeable…the possible exception being a more detailed discussion on the ‘avoidance’ of nos.4 and 5.

In that respect, (and luckily, considering how things have changed) we were blessed with a local high school sex-ed teacher, so informed, and so specific with the ‘hows’ and ‘whats’ as to make…ahem….’Rielle Hunter’ blush.

I’d even venture to say that Ms. Hunter could have benefitted from that particular class…

#81 Comment By PTC On August 20, 2008 @ 3:57 pm


That is pretty far off from the preppy hand book rule of the 4 B’s-


That settles it, mandatory drinking for all high school students and older! There is something wrong with this generation, Soph mom!

#82 Comment By hwc On August 20, 2008 @ 4:03 pm

the possible exception being a more detailed discussion on the ‘avoidance’ of nos.4 and 5.

A discussion which much include some talk about binge drinking. The talk also must include a discussion of the impact of drinking on legal consent. This is, of course, important to parents of young women, but I’m not sure that young men and their parents understand that a drunk date cannot give legal consent and that, without legal consent, the guy is a sitting duck for a rape charge.

Sexual assault, both real and alleged, is one of the most severe consequences of college binge drinking. Frank discussions are critical.

#83 Comment By hwc On August 20, 2008 @ 4:04 pm

That is pretty far off from the preppy hand book rule of the 4 B’s-

Dad’s 5 Rules for College don’t preclude any of the B’s.

#84 Comment By PTC On August 20, 2008 @ 4:14 pm

hwc- Wow. All I can say is… sounds like a bad time!

#85 Comment By PTC On August 20, 2008 @ 4:19 pm


Whatever happened to the good old days!

#86 Comment By hwc On August 20, 2008 @ 4:30 pm

All I can say is… sounds like a bad time!

It’s happened at Williams. A date rape story that started, “First we got really drunk and then…”

After a rape trial and all the attendent news coverage, there are a young woman and a young man who have been through hell and nobody has a clue how to evaluate the he said/she said.

Just a complete all-around nightmare. The statistics on date rape at colleges are sobering to say the least.

#87 Comment By frank uible On August 20, 2008 @ 4:35 pm

If a drunk date can’t give legal consent, then it seems only fair (and constitutionally ptotected under the equal protection clause) that a drunk date can’t commit rape.

#88 Comment By Rory On August 20, 2008 @ 4:44 pm

no frank, it doesn’t. not at all.

#89 Comment By frank uible On August 20, 2008 @ 4:51 pm

I like the symetry of the proposition – “I didn’t know what I was doing” works for all.

#90 Comment By Rory On August 20, 2008 @ 5:09 pm

i like the simplicity of “if she’s drunk, don’t do it” more.

#91 Comment By ronit On August 20, 2008 @ 5:12 pm

Frank – surely it would be just as symmetrical for both individuals in the encounter to be charged with rape?

#92 Comment By PTC On August 20, 2008 @ 5:28 pm

Rory- Good god.

Like I said- sounds like a bad time. It is about knowing who you are with. Drunk or not.

#93 Comment By JG On August 20, 2008 @ 8:24 pm

I will now put on both the defense attorney hat and the former member of the Rape and Sexual Assault Network hat.

First of all, if both parties are drunk, both parties could theoretically accuse the other of rape. Men can be raped, and can be raped by women. If either party is drunk, steer clear of sexual activity. Obviously, that is a complicated rule for college students. This is where education is key, as are good friends who will hopefully help intervene. So Rory, you’re usually not that narrow-minded…if anyone is drunk, bad idea.

Now, the legal aspect of defending yourself…. While you would think that being drunk negates the intent required for crimes, you’d be wrong. Voluntary intoxication negates specific intent (as in, I set out with the purpose of committing XYZ crime). But for crimes with what is considered “general intent,” voluntary intoxication is not an excuse. Rape is usually a general intent crime, although it could potentially vary by state. General intent is the intent to perform the act – as in, the intent to have sex with someone. It doesn’t have to be done with the purpose to rape. Obviously there are fine points to argue about when one becomes drunk or high to the point of losing the higher-level functioning required to form intent. And thus ends the lecture…make sense? If so, you are halfway to passing a first year criminal law class ;)

#94 Comment By PTC On August 20, 2008 @ 8:47 pm

JG- Sounds like a bad time.

#95 Comment By rory On August 20, 2008 @ 10:03 pm


cmon…if she’s drunk sounds much better than if s/he is drunk. let’s not call that stylistic faux pau narrowmindedness.

#96 Comment By Will Slack ’11 On August 20, 2008 @ 11:36 pm

I believed I was informed last year that when both parties are drunk, the legal “victim” is literally the first person to complain/accuse, thus bringing to mind a very scary prisoner’s dilemma.

#97 Pingback By 8.20.08 Featured blogs of the day « Student Bloggers On August 21, 2008 @ 12:09 am

[…] And the “Dark Knight”* of the day is… the Amethyst Initiative, now with over 100 college presidents agreeing that the drinking age should be lowered to 18. [Sanguine et Purpure, theprereq, College Click TV, Wesleying, EphBlog] […]

#98 Comment By Ephgal007 On August 21, 2008 @ 11:46 am

I am so disappointed in Morty. Williams should be leading this discussion. Instead we have spent the last few years concocting million-dollar schemes that only accerbate the issue. My time at Williams, like Chotch, was ridiculously tumultous. When I rolled up to campus as a freshman, I stupidly envisioned political rallys and fiery debate about the next great political movement. Instead, I got four years of talk about the alcohol policy, three years of non-stop constructiuon and a visit by George McGovern my senior year that had a disappointing turnout. What a shame.

Homecoming 2003 was the last great hurrah at Williams and how I wish I had somehow understood to appreciate it more. After the stupid actions of some random idiots, we were treated to a crackdown courtesy of the Williamstown PD – the second wave of its kind and a crushing blow. The next year, I went to AnHerst for their homecoming and had a better time than at the Williams event. What a shame. We should be punishing those that aggrevate the system and upstage the status quo or trying to educate them about how to drink responsibly. DrinkSmart at Williams is a running joke around campus and the person in charge of it, while sweet and well-intentioned, is lampooned as the college’s most naive ambassador to the student body. Why aren’t we evaluating these flawed approaches and investing in new tactics? Or perhaps joining in a discussion about how the drinking law might need to be adjusted. Or why the nation has gone seriosuly off course in protecting our youth.

It wasn’t until Morty closed the health center at nights that we realized that something had to give. What we didnt realize was that that somethig was our ability to decide where we live and with whom. Against a majority of the student body’s wishes, we got assigned seating via cluster housing, designed to reduce the size of the social communities and the danger of binge drinking. In a campus in the middle of nowhere, where you can walk from one end to the other in under 10 minutes, it was deemed absolutely essential that we have even smaller communities. What a shame. Now the issue is students heading to off-campus parties in droves and drawing more ire from the WPD.

Morty needs a reality check. If he didn’t get it after students started smearing feces on the walls of campus bathrooms, he needs to get it right quick. It has been said so often on campus that it is inevitable that a student – scared of paying the $$$ for an ambulance and calling his/her parents – will die of alcohol poisoning in the next few years. How can you hear this and not want to make a real change?

#99 Comment By frank uible On August 21, 2008 @ 4:43 pm

Whatever became of simply drinking a few too many beers, barfing, passing out and waking up in the morning with a big head?

#100 Comment By PTC On August 21, 2008 @ 8:56 pm

The health center was an enabler. It was being used as an emergency room for students who drank way too much. Now, you call an ambulance. The College was damn smart to close it down. One serious injury or death would have opened the school up to massive litigation.

It is not wise to have health care facilities being used in a capacity beyond their charter and capability. Alchol can kill you. Like it or not, if your frined gets so drunk they need to go to a hospital, well, that is exactlty where they should go. Now, students are heald accountable for alcohol abuse just like everyone else. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Drink responsibly.

#101 Comment By PTC On August 21, 2008 @ 8:59 pm

By the way- I think beer and wine should be legal at 18.

#102 Comment By rory On August 21, 2008 @ 9:09 pm

you know what would have been interesting? if the health center had asked (I don’t know if they did, thankfully I never went for alcohol myself) what someone drank and saw whether it was beer, wine, or hard stuff that got people into trouble? I’d wager it was hard stuff.

#103 Comment By PTC On August 21, 2008 @ 10:14 pm

Anyone have an estimate on how many students were treated for alcohol poisoning at the health center every year? Were there a lot of repeat offenders?

You can get absolutely snot slinging drunk- but if you drink to the point where you need medical help, you either-

1) Are very inexperienced, and/ or are having a first time hopefully last time learning event taking place.

2) Or you need AA. You are a serious alcoholic, who is a danger to themselves and others. You have no business drinking if you are putting yourself in the hospital.

I partied a lot in my life. I would guess as much or more than anyone blogging here. I have no problem with young adults drinking at 18. When they start to put themselves and others at risk, then it is the individual’s responsibility to moderate or quit. There is a strange lack of responsibility involved in this thread, in terms of drinking and sexuality. Not a culture I have much sympathy for. Be responsible for yourself and your actions. It is not the fault of the health care clinic, or the faculty and staff at Williams, that the students did not moderate their behavior well enough to earn the respect of the adults around them. Trashed living spaces, vomit all over the place, a health clinic that became a drunk tank- What did you expect?

#104 Comment By PTC On August 21, 2008 @ 10:29 pm

Ephgal2007- Correct me if I am wrong, but you have the option to live off campus, right? You move off Campus, and you are no longer subject to college campus rules when it comes to drinking and who you live with. At 20 plus years old, you had the option to live any way you wanted to. You could have used Williams for the academic experience, and created whatever climate you desired in your own space. A lot of College students, live on the economy.

Williams is not for everyone. It is however, if nothing else, a powerfull place to have a diploma from. You did not have to play the campus lifestyle game, if you did not want to. Heck- You could have lived in North Adams or as far away as Albany if the scene was not for you.

#105 Comment By 1980 On August 21, 2008 @ 10:48 pm

PTC, I don’t think that alcohol transports fall into your two categories. But I also don’t get the increase in visits to the health center that lead to its closure, and I don’t get the number of transports that now go on. Williams students drank a lot (certaily sometimes too much) when I was there, but I don’t remember anybody ever being sent to the hospital. What’s the difference now?

#106 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On August 21, 2008 @ 11:17 pm

1980: The Health Center no longer exists. People who would have been transported to the Health Center, are now taken to NARH.

PTC: Unless you have a good lawyer who knows the precident, you generally cannot live off-campus at Williams until senior year, and then only with approval. YMMV may vary on living with whom you choose, etc (due to “approval”.)

#107 Comment By Ephgal007 On August 21, 2008 @ 11:31 pm

PTC, You’re damn right I moved off-campus the minute I could. And I had to contend with freshmen coming to my parties and getting super drunk because the nearest campus party is completely dead. That left me trying to keep them from getting out of control and on more than one occasion walking them home. That’s a terrible position to put upperclassmen in and a sign of a campus social life that is failing its students.

And I think its ridiculous for you to say that if I didn’t like the social atmosphere then I should have gone elsewhere. Why are you even participating in a Williams-related community? A huge part of the college experience is the social life and the friends you make while you are there. I’d like to think of ways to make it better, not encourage people to take a hike if they don’t like it. I hope that freshmen who are feeling unsure about their entry won’t just take off to Albany. Geesh.

And 1980, people who went to the health center didn’t necessarily belong in a hospital. It was worried JAs and peers who were concerned about a student who maybe had too much to drink or maybe just needed to take a nap. It was a safe haven to go to, not only for alcohol intoxication but even for a nighttime injury. And while I can see why it might appear to be an “enabler” (although I find the choice of word to be ridiculous) I disagree that it was used that way. There was a pretty bad stigma attached to ending up at the health center, regardless of whether or not you would have been fine if you had just gone to bed. My point is that closing the health center did not reduce the college’s risks, but opened up a huge sand trap that could really come to bite them in the ass. I don’t think its absence will reduce binge drinking in the slightest; I don’t think anyone plans on going to the hospital.

To simply say that people just should not drink too much is a ridiculous verbal band-aid to apply to this discussion. While we should educate college-age students about alcohol, until we allow them to learn from their parents from an earlier age, we need to face the reality of the situation.

#108 Comment By Soph Mom On August 21, 2008 @ 11:42 pm

Would medical interventions filed under “alcohol-related” include even those accidents that occur with mild inebriation? For instance, a mashed finger…a sprain slipping on the ice…a bump on the head?

#109 Comment By David Broadband On August 22, 2008 @ 1:05 am

To our tawdry crowd and for your thoughtful comments and uncommonly fond remarks, may I remind you that fools part with their sobriety (among other elements).

One finds oneself bound, by obligation and with duty accorded to one’s peers, to aid a fellow student by finding our way to safety. It was not uncommon to find myself on occasion, helping a drunken sot move his ass to his bed. Of course, when in need, one gives a helping hand.

Victuals follow victory and wind their way to memory.

May we all be so fortunate to call upon our friends for comfort and support.

Thank you one and all.

#110 Comment By frank uible On August 22, 2008 @ 7:26 am

As I recall, early in the life of the current health center (1970s?) the College was sued and settled for a big figure over a student death following an overnight stay at the center – encephalitis, I believe it was. Shortly thereafter overnight stays were eliminated. Sue me if my memory is faulty.

#111 Comment By frank uible On August 22, 2008 @ 7:39 am

According to the College’s records the Thompson Health Center wasn’t erected until 1985.

#112 Comment By 1980 On August 22, 2008 @ 9:07 am

Prior to the Thompson Health Center, there was the Thompson Infirmary, just behind the Armstrong end of Mission Park. I think this building was turned into a dorm in the mid 80’s.

I don’t remember extremely intoxicated students being taken to the infirmary, but maybe I’m wrong on that. I’m sure there were “alcohol related incidents” such as those suggested by Soph Mom.

It could be one of the factors in the increased transports now (at Williams and other colleges) is a more cautious approach to handling very intoxicated students.

#113 Comment By PTC On August 22, 2008 @ 10:22 am


Well, I am glad you got off campus. I hope you had fun in Williamstown. It is a good time. I hope you got to spend a summer or two there as well. Nothing beats it.

Sorry that my attempt to give you an alternative point of view involving individual responsibility seems out of place, and/ or crass. I can understand why the message seemed obnoxious and harsh. But my point of view is unchanged.

If 18 year old plus adults cannot handle alcohol, they should not be drinking it. I have nephews and nieces that age, they drink, and we do not have to escort them around town to get them home safely. If they make a mistake with alcohol they are responsible for it, as am I if I am the “adult” who served them. I am more than willing to help out friends who have over done it, and I have done so from time to time in mylife. I have been there. In fact, I have spent the last 25 years of my life dealing with the same issues.

The idea that we need to protect these young men and women from themselves seems off to me. If you need an ambulance, you should call one. Why should’t individuals be held responsible for their actions? Do you think others of their age group get to destroy property and drink themselves sick with little or no consequence? You think the 18 year old Marines David supervised could destroy property, drink themselves sick and act like fools without any consequences from their chain of command? We are talking about adults here, and if the argument is going to be made that these young men and women should be allowed to drink because they are of war fighting age, then we need them to be as responsible and held as accountable as the people we are using as examples in an attempt to change the law.

If the issue of the health center closing was not about drinking, and the shielding from the consequence- then what was it? You state straight out in your post that the health center was being used to protect students from themselves. In my opinion, that kind of approach has never worked, and it never will.

The word “enable” came right from the mouth of the people who worked at the health center, by the way.

Why is my participation in this thread valid? Why am I here?

1) Because I was born and raised in the Berkshires and Williamstown.
2) Because I have drank more beer with Williams students than you have.
3) Because I have family members and friends who are alum and work there.
4) Because I have a different view, and open and honest debate is what Williams is all about.
5) Because it is therapeutic for me to blog here and keep my connection with home.
6) Because David Kane lets me.

#114 Comment By Ephgal007 On August 22, 2008 @ 10:43 am

I don’t actually question your right to post here. My query was mostly rhetorical. But when you say that students should opt to remove themselves from the community if they find challanges in the atmosphere at Williams goes against the whole point of this blog. Plus I don’t think you really meant it and its an easy way out.

I will be the first to admit that college students are becoming increasingly dumb about their own safety and should learn to control themselves. You have my vote there. But I DO think this behavior correlates with the higher drinking age. I also think that regards of how much we want to just tell spoiled college kids to cut it out, that is not going to fly as a good policy for a college administrator.

Actually the biggest problem at Williams is that when certain students get drunk, they destroy property. That right there is just a sign of bad parenting.

#115 Comment By PTC On August 22, 2008 @ 12:06 pm

I meant it. You are also correct, it is the easy way out. In your case, the only way out. Williams is one big development. You are right.

If the students wanted to curb the drinking culture and lack of respect for property, you could have. That one, is on you. I am sure you had your reasons for letting other destroy things. Peer pressure, I suppose?