A trial to determine punishment, probation from student activities, frustration: All brought to you by a trip to the hospital and one unfortunately unforgettable night. A concerning number of freshmen already wear the badge of shame that comes from a drunken escapade gone horribly wrong. Freshmen’s resident assistants follow the procedure which states that anyone suspected of drinking and caught vomiting must immediately take a trip to the emergency room. As a result, the rooms in University Hospitals are packed on Friday and Saturday nights. You may think the issue here lies in the irresponsibility of freshmen and their voracious drinking habits, but I’m not so sure. I believe something’s wrong with the way this university— and undergraduate institutions in general— handles underage drinking.
For starters, to think that underage students won’t drink on a college campus is pretty naïve. Whoever’s idea it was to put 21-year-olds in the same place as 18-year-olds with a law restricting teenagers from interacting with alcohol had a serious lapse in judgment. The law permits only a fourth of undergrads to drink but, naturally, almost all undergrads will drink as a result of proximity. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that as many as 80 percent of all undergraduate college students consume alcohol during their college career.
Since underage drinking seems inevitable, why would universities waste their own resources, those of the hospital and of the students’ parents in order to quell it? Nurses would much rather pay attention to actually sick patients. I’m sure they don’t jump for joy whenever sloppy teenage drunks crowd the EC and vie for their precious time. Parents get an even worse end of the deal whenever they receive the hospital bill. Our parents already shell out enough to CWRU. They probably expect the faculty and staff here not to make a costly mountain out of a molehill (like throwing up). Besides, no one patrols the 21-year-olds and their post-party vomiting. They know to drink water and suffer through hangovers like adults. Since the majority of us here are legal adults, the RA’s should really extend the same courtesy of independence to us.
Speaking of RA’s, how many of them really want to spend their weekends chasing down intoxicated freshmen, anyway? Instead of stalking vodka-breathed kids, they could urge the sober students to keep their living areas cleaner. They could check in on roommate disagreements and make rounds to make sure everyone is healthy and happy. If we’re supposed to see RA’s as helpful and feel comfortable coming to them with our problems, then maybe they should tone down their disciplinary side just a little.
The university can do more to ensure the safety of its students by teaching them how to prevent alcohol-related disasters instead of punishing their ignorance. Many freshmen who choose to drink when they come to college haven’t done so before. They need more guidance. During orientation week, presenters glossed over the issue. The message I garnered from all the so-called advice was “you might end up drinking, but you shouldn’t.” Since statistics show the predictability of underage drinking in college, why doesn’t the university teach freshmen about the dangers of alcohol poisoning, how to establish personal drinking limits or how to avoid vomiting and hangovers?
The more radical question would be “why doesn’t the university, as a private institution, lower the campus drinking age to eighteen?” Other small colleges already model this approach. While this may help to reduce campus arrest rates, the same dangers that arise from uninformed young adults deciding to drink would remain. All universities should concern themselves with preventing reckless drinking habits through education, regardless of how many other policies surrounding drinking exist. After all, post-secondary schools are charged with educating us, not placing a levy on our lifestyle choices.
Maia Delegal is a first-year student from Jacksonville, Florida. She is planning to double major in music performance and either cognitive science, psychology, neurobiology, political science or women’s and gender studies. In her free time she likes to read, write and have jam sessions with the talented musicians in Taft.