Riot Reveals Weakness of College Alcohol Ban

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 18, 1999 | Go to article overview

Riot Reveals Weakness of College Alcohol Ban


A ban on alcohol at a spring festival caused a riot at Iowa State University recently. Students roamed the campus, knocking over signs and damaging property. The angry mob then headed to the president's house to voice its displeasure over the alcohol ban.

Since the drinking age was raised more than a decade ago, college campuses have had increasing problems. Student drinking - once obnoxiously visible - has become an increasingly clandestine affair. For those illegal drinkers under 21, friends' off-campus apartments have become the 1990s equivalent of the speakeasy, and fake IDs have become a "right of passage."

Many college students thumb their noses at the drinking age laws. The problem is we lack a national consensus on what the drinking age should be. There are only three other countries in the world that follow a strict 21 drinking age: Malaysia, South Korea and Ukraine. States changed their drinking age in 1986 not because they believed 21 is the ideal age but because they faced losing federal highway funds if they didn't.

In effect, Congress was unwilling to alienate voters age 18 to 21, so they used fiscal leverage on state legislators to impose legislation on that vocal and active portion of the electorate. As a result, all states have some law in effect that talks about 21 as a minimum age for purchase and possession but not consumption. Some states have exceptions for special circumstances, such as drinking in private clubs, drinking when accompanied by a parent, and so forth. In fact, only 31 states have passed strict laws prohibiting drinking at age 21. On top of that, there is a lack of desire to enforce the 21 drinking age in many communities and in many homes.

History tells us the only time legislative intervention works is when a majority of the citizens believe that law is just. But many college students over and under 21 do not respect the law. This creates a major challenge for colleges and universities, which inherit students who upon their 18th birthday become fully functioning citizens, capable of voting, entering into contract, marrying without parental consent, and serving in the armed forces. These same individuals are told they can't purchase or possess alcoholic beverages until age 21.

The campus drinking culture continues to be viewed through the wrong end of the telescope. The percentage of college freshmen who say they drink beer frequently or occasionally is at its lowest level since record-keeping began in 1966. …

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Riot Reveals Weakness of College Alcohol Ban
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