The other day, I was reading through the Office of Safety and Security's crime log when I came across a report that an underage student had used a fake ID, bought alcohol, and provided it to other minors in Osher Hall. It reminded me of the strange role that alcohol plays, not only on our campus, but also in this country.
Our school has a strange relationship with alcohol: On the one hand, as we were all told during Orientation, possession of hard alcohol in College housing is a violation of the Social Code. However, the school also provides tacit approval of underage consumption through its description of chem-free dorms: "There is no alcohol consumption in the common and private areas of the residence."
The United States has the highest drinking age in the developed world. And what does it have to show for that? Nothing.
According to the Amethyst Initiative, an organization supported by 135 college presidents (not including our own), which advocates that current drinking laws be reconsidered, "21 is not working."
Relatively speaking, for example, the number of deaths caused by drunk driving in the United States is higher compared to countries with lower drinking ages. In California, a state with 32 million cars and a road network about 169,000 miles long, there were 1,355 alcohol-related deaths in 2008. In Britain, however, with a population twice as large, a similar number of cars and 248,000 miles of road, only a third as many people were killed in alcohol-related car accidents.
Not only does a higher drinking age have no effect on car accidents, the law that enforces it "doesn't treat students as adults," says former President of Dartmouth James Wright, a supporter of the Amethyst Initiative.
As the law stands, at age 18 you can vote, buy a gun, smoke, get married, be summoned for jury duty, pay taxes, and even die for your country in battle, yet you are still not allowed to purchase alcohol.
It could be argued that even 18 is an arbitrary age at which to legally become an adult but that is not the issue at hand.
It would seem that the members of Congress who approved the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984 forgot that, under the Fourteenth Amendment, no person should be denied "the equal protection of the laws." That is exactly the case if, for three years of your life, you can be penalized for a crime that does not exist for any other so-called adult.
Congress passed (and President Reagan signed) the law in order to standardize the drinking age. The law went through partly as a result of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), a lobbying group that maintains that the current drinking age "reduces traffic crashes, protects young people's maturing brains, and keeps younger people safer overall."
While there is no disputing the inaccuracy of the first argument and the truth in the second, the third point raised is a blanket statement, which ignores the inevitable siren call of any "dangerous" substance, as evidenced by the high number of underage drinkers in the United States.
As the former president of Middlebury, John McCardell, told "60 Minutes" in 2009, "[this law] hasn't reduced or eliminated drinking. It has simply driven it underground, behind closed doors into the most risky and least manageable of settings".
If that wasn't enough, groups like MADD and even the government often equate alcohol with illicit drugs—in one poster shown in New York, alcohol was made out to be more dangerous than cocaine. In using such scare tactics, alcohol's appeal is only increased further.
As the Australian Psychological Society points out, people will want to use something that they perceive will "help them in some way, such as increasing pleasure or decreasing emotional pain." Alcohol becomes this "something" because it is readily available, inexpensive and, unlike smoking, does not have a negative connotation attached to it.
You ask someone what the first word that comes to their mind when you say "cigarette" and their answer will probably be "cancer." Say "alcohol" and you are more likely to hear "party" than "liver failure."
Ultimately, this age limit has not achieved anything it was meant to. Underage drinking continues unabated and underground, leaving too many vulnerable to alcohol's effects. Drunk driving incidences have decreased minimally and the rate of deaths as a result of alcohol on the road is still dizzyingly high.
What's even more peculiar is how "anti-constitutional" health care mandates and debt ceiling increases infuriate the same lawmakers who ignore this 27-year old denial of a citizen's basic rights.
Collectively, we need to stop demonizing alcohol and realize that we need to completely rethink how we, as a society, deal with this controversial substance.
Jean-Paul Honegger is a member of the Class of 2015.