Class has started, fall is in the air and most important of all, football season is back. I, like many of my fellow Wolf Pack members, like to enjoy alcohol from time to time, especially on gameday. Thankfully for me, I am 21 and able to go to a bar or drink at a tailgate event. But I wasn’t always 21; many students do not have this luxury. So what do you do if you are under the drinking age and want to drink? You either find someone older to buy it for you or get a fake ID. Once you get the alcohol, maybe you and your friends huddle in a dorm room and drink or go to a tailgate and try to avoid the bike cops. This sense of paranoia about the possibility of getting caught by a police officer or RA for doing something illegal only encourages more drinking.
Our country’s puritanical drinking laws encourage binge drinking and take what should be a social act in a public space (like a bar) and relocate it to private homes where people are out of supervision of those who keep the peace, like bartenders, bouncers and police officers. Without these people, drinking while underage is only possible in places that are less socially regulated environments.
But don’t just take my word for it. The Amethyst Initiative, a statement that seeks to lower the drinking age, was signed by over 100 chancellors and presidents of colleges and universities throughout the United States.
The Initiative remarks, “Alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students.” Abstinence until 21 is ridiculous, especially when in a college environment where 18- to 22-year-olds mingle in classes, sports and social circles.
One of the biggest benefits of having a lower drinking age is that there would be a decrease in sexual assault cases. Like I mentioned earlier, those who drink while underage drink in less socially regulated environments, and with heavy alcohol consumption playing a significant factor in nearly every sexual assault allegation, people who are sexually assaulted in a bar or restaurant can go to the bartender or bouncer and have them call the police or deal with it. But those who are underage in a dorm room or at a house party in someone’s basement don’t have those luxuries. The drinking age at 21 does not stop those underage who want to drink from drinking; it just forces them to drink in a different location away from supervision.
We live in a country where you can join the Army, fight for our freedoms and win a Purple Heart at 18, but you can’t buy yourself a measly PBR at a bar. You can buy cigarettes, vote in our presidential election and get your license, but don’t even think about ordering a Moscow Mule. We deserve the right to drink just as we deserve the right to smoke cigarettes. People can pick their vices for themselves as long as they are not putting others in harm’s way. So when we as a country decide to forbid certain legal adults — people ages 18 to 20 — from drinking in bars and other public spaces, we create the unintended consequence of promoting binge drinking. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” I just wish every member of the Wolf Pack had the opportunity to be as happy as me on gameday.
Austin Harney studies political science. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.