Campus / News / May 28, 2008

Drinking responsibly at 18

This legislation is supported by college and university administrations that ascribe to many of the arguments and positions voiced by John McCardell, the former president of Middlebury College, and current director of

McCardell and chooseresponsibility have been getting press for their advocacy of lowering the drinking age, including pieces in Newsweek, Washington Post, USA Today, 60 Minutes, and the British newspaper The Guardian.

“I think he has a lot of educators and deans around the country,” said Dean Xavier Romano. “A number of us have been having the conversation about the ramifications. I’m a part of that conversation,” he said.

“McCardell] is a proponent of lowering the drinking age to 18 for a number of reasons. Strangely enough, I’m in favor of this,” he said.

These proponents of lowering the drinking age note that this is to promote more responsible behavior.

“We aren’t talking about people acting inappropriately,” said Dean Romano. “We are talking about responsible behavior.”

At the same time educators recognize that there is vast opposition to this motion.

“It’s not lost on me that groups such as MADD are very vocally against this and understandably so,” said Romano, “but we are not talking about intoxication, we are talking about responsibility.”

“All of us are against reckless abuse and reckless use of alcohol by young adults,” said Romano.

Some of the arguments that administrators are making are some of the same ones that students are making.

“It strikes me as very strange in our society that an 18-year-old can fight in Afghanistan and Iraq and carry state of the art weaponry but can’t have a beer,” said Romano.

The major argument being employed is that lowering the drinking age puts more responsibility on those who are currently underage.

“Maybe the time has come for us to treat young adults as young adults,” said Romano. “It’s not a get out of jail free card. It’s acknowledging that they are young adults.”

This is an idea that many people have gotten in comparing the mentality about drinking in young people in Europe with those in the United States.

“I think that part of the appeal of alcohol in students under 18 is that it’s illegal,” said Assistant Director of Campus Life James Stewart. In Europe, “you see more maturity about alcohol,” he said.

This is an issue that could come to the foreground as McCardell gains more attention.

“I think the next five to 10 years of this discussion is going to be very interesting,” said Romano.

At the same time that Knox administrators are paying attention to McCardell’s arguments, this does not sway how alcohol violations are dealt with on campus.

“Every independent institution follows the mandate set forth by Illinois legislature,” said Romano. “Illinois recognizes the legal drinking age of 21.”

The college also looks out for student well-being with regards to alcohol.

“Clearly our interest will always be on the health and well being of the individual with adjudication a distant second,” said Romano.

When a student becomes ill from alcohol poisoning the first priority is making sure that they are healthy.

“Later on, down the road, we will do a follow up: Is this part of a deeper ongoing problem or was it one night where bad decisions were made,” said Romano. “We don’t operate from a template. No two situations are the same.”

In considering the study situation the focus is on the welfare of the student.

“If it is part of a larger pattern of behavior, we help the student grapple with the larger issue,” said Romano, “and that is all about their well-being and being able to make informed decisions.”

At the same time, the administration is not solely responsible for looking after the well-being of students.

“I think students look out for each other,” said Stewart. “Students do a good job of stopping someone when they need to stop.”

The fact that students look out for each other could be a consequence of the community at Knox.

“I think that part of it is the benefit of going to a small school,” said Stewart.

While students are good at taking care of their peers, watching out for their well-being could go farther.

“It should be a community in which students can confront other students,” said Stewart. “Ideally every student should be comfortable addressing other students involving alcohol,” he said.

Anjali Pattanayak

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