Friday, April 13, 2007

Choose Responsibility: License 18 – 20-Year-Old Drinkers

John McCardell was president of Middlebury College. He dealt with quite a bit of binge drinking and stupid drinking by underage students. Because drinking was both widespread and illegal for most students, the college was in the worst-of-both-worlds bind. They could not successfully prevent all youth drinking, but only drive it more or less underground. And they could not legally teach students how to drink responsibly.

When McCardell retired as president, he decided to do something about it. He has created an organization, Choose Responsibility, to teach and license 18, 19, and 20 year olds to drink alcohol.

I think Choose Responsibility has a great idea, and I support it wholeheartedly.

I am a teetotaler. I will have a sip of champagne in a toast if my mom asks me to, but that is about it. I don't care for alcohol, and am Irish enough not to want to develop a taste for it. I don't think alcohol is immoral – Jesus made wine, so it can't be all bad – but I don't want to have it in my life.

Nonetheless, most of the people I know and respect do drink alcohol in moderation. Most students will try alcohol in college. Most young people will drink as a rite of passage as well as a social good in its own right.

What I worry about is binge drinking and drinking to get drunk. This is a problem on my campus, and just about every campus in America. For the non-collegiate young adults, drunken drinking is probably an even bigger problem, with fewer institutional controls.

I want those students who do drink to learn how to do it in moderation. I think the best resource that an educational institution has to achieve any goal with students is to teach about it. Moreover, I think that the faculty are, on the whole, an excellent source of examples of how to drink responsibly and moderately. Colleges miss a vital teachable moment when we do not teach students how to drink the right way.

The initial debate has been tangled up with the drunk driving debate, which is not really relevant. Student drunkenness is still a problem even if they don't drive. Leaving students to pick up their alcohol education in the gutter makes no more sense than leaving them to learn to drive covertly and by trial-and-error.

At this moment, the Choose Responsibility movement seems quixotic, but it is a good idea. Its time will come, and soon.


Anonymous said...

I agree with your point. Last year when the local University experienced a tradgic accident when a young college student running from the police was struck by a train, I was livid that all the University and Police could say was that they were going to crack down on underage drinking. College drinking is not going to be eliminated. Making students more afraid of the reprecussions will not prevent such incidents from happening again.

It would be interesting to have an underage drinking license. As long as you don't behave unresponsibly, you could legally drink without reprecussions. We've moved on to graduated driver's licenses, why not have such a graduated drinking license, so to speak?

On a different note, Happy Gruntled Day.

Elaine said...

I've long wondered why it seems that the harder we crackdown on any exposure to alcohol before the 21st birthday, the more college students seem to die from binge drinking?

When I was growing up it was common for high school students to be allowed small amounts of alcohol at home with their parents. Low alcohol (3.2) beer was available at 18, harder alcohol at 21. I don't remember a single incident of a dead college student from binge drinking.

Now, that it seems people, even adults for the first 3 years of their adulthood, aren't allowed a sip of alcohol until one magic day -- they die from binge drinking.

Gee, think maybe there's a connection?

Norman, OK

Anonymous said...


I agree that this is sensible. Responsible drinking has to be practiced. If the only context in which late teenagers drink is fraternity parties lacking adults, then binge drinking will be the model.

I'm not sure how to deal with the legal specifics, but the analogy to driving seems promising.

I saw so much binge drinking in college that I share your interest in the college accepting this responsibility. Young people need it.

Kerri said...

I agree... I've seen too many Centre kids learn how to drink "the hard way" their freshman year.

Freshman are probably going to drink, even if (or especially if in some case) they didn't drink in high school. They will then realize that there are much more interesting things to do with one's time at college, and they will settle down. How many times they have to go to the hospital, be carried back to their room, or awkwardly have their previous night's activities explained to them by a friend is what hangs in the balance here. At least I think.

Anonymous said...


Very nice thoughts on the group "Choose Responsibility". Since leaving Centre as Director of Greek Life and assuming the Coordinator of Fraternity and Sorority Life position at Texas Christian, I have become aware of the group Choose Responsibilty.

TCU's Fraternity & Sorority Life office, along with our Office of Alcohol and Drug Education are looking to collaborate and sponsor a campus debate, in fact, between Choose Responsibility and it's largest antithesis, MADD. MADD, interestingly, is based (or has a huge nexus) in the Ft. Worth area. I think our students will really enjoy this program, if we can get it into fruition, and it is my hope more campuses will host similar such engagements in an effort to enlighten and engage a seemingly desensitized youth population with regard to alcohol.

All my best from Texas, (It rains more here than it did in Kentucky!)

Josh Schutts
Fraternity and Sorority Life
Texas Christian University

Gruntled said...

I have been thinking about how to make a public forum to discuss the Choose Responsibility idea. A debate with a MADD representative is a good idea.