On Jan. 17, Vice-Chancellor John McCardell appeared on “Katie,” otherwise known as the Katie Couric Show (link to the video available here). In this segment, McCardell, founder and president emeritus of Choose Responsibility, discussed with the president of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) the reality of drinking in the lives of young Americans’.
McCardell has debated for years that the drinking age should be lowered to 18, but only on the condition that youths are better educated regarding the consequences of alcohol abuse. In his New York Times article “Let Them Drink at 18, With a Learner’s Permit,” McCardell expresses: Let us treat young people who turn 18 as the adults who the law, in every other respect, says they are.”
Representing two views, Sam Tracy (Chairman of the University of Connecticut Students for Sensible Drug Policy) and Monica Vandehei (student at Belmont University and member of MADD) spoke on behalf of the college generation. The juxtaposition between the two age groups and the differing views between Choose Responsibility and MADD created an interesting discussion that traveled from “Katie” to Sewanee itself.
Economics professor Steve Ford, in agreement with McCardell’s views, says that the biggest issue is that most college students are not learning how to consume alcohol safely and responsibly. “I picked up bad habits when I drank in college, and it had a negative impact on my health. Kids [under twenty-one] who like alcohol are more likely to develop issues with interpersonal relationships. Alcohol is a crutch to them, and that’s because they have to hide the fact that they’re drinking. So they drink in their rooms, not socially.”
Ford speculates that keeping the drinking age at twenty-one contributes to the frequent binge-drinking that occurs on college campuses. Moreover, binge-drinking culture forces students into closed spaces and allows unsupervised, unlimited drinking. Ford also says, “students need to understand… that when you see a really drunk person, that it’s not very funny, and if it happens a lot, that person can be labeled in a way. It can close doors, including personal relationships and job opportunities.”
Pre-med student Sarah Moats (C’17) thinks that lowering the drinking age would create a dangerous learning curve. Drunk driving is still an alarmingly common occurrence that would grow if the drinking age were lowered. Still, she argues that educating youths on how to imbibe alcohol and socialize responsibly is a reasonable solution. Moats believes that anyone recognized as an adult should be treated like one, but only if each adult understands the repercussions of drug and alcohol use. “That way,” she says, “when you’re recognized as an adult by the government, all that is held from you (joining the army, legal independence from parents, buying cigarettes/lottery tickets, etc.) will and can be given at the same age.”
Sarah Kachelman (C’17) says, “Lowering the drinking age would encourage irresponsibility. It involves a higher risk for high school students.” For Kachelman, the decision revolves around the danger of allowing high school students to drink when they are eighteen. “In college, you can walk home because everything’s close. In high school, you usually have to drive home.” This presents a legitimate risk, especially in the eyes of MADD.
MADD’s website states, “The mission of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is to stop drunk driving, support the victims of this violent crime and prevent underage drinking.” On the other hand, McCardell’s representation of Choose Responsibility has certainly provoked serious thought regarding alcohol policy. As their website suggests, “The time has come to address the reality of alcohol in America.” As for what that reality entails, that is for students and professors to decide for themselves.