The Drinking Age Debate Fuels Conversation on Campus

Submitted by Jorge Espino '11 on February 1, 2010

Fairfield University, through the efforts of its student association, hosted a debate on the national minimum drinking age in the lower level of the Barone Campus Center on Jan. 27, 2010.

spotlight_drinkingage3The crowd that had eagerly made its way into Barone listened intently to the two sides of the drinking age debate presented by Dr. John McCardell, who spearheaded the Amethyst Initiative, and Mr. Jim Fells, former executive board member of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD). The issue has garnered both support and opposition at Fairfield University since President Rev. Jeffrey Von Arx, S.J., signed the Amethyst Initiative during the Fall of 2008.

The innumerable informal debates on this issue that have taken place in classrooms, dorm rooms, and across dining hall tables caught the attention of the Fairfield University Student Association (FUSA). On behalf of the student organization, FUSA President Jeff Sieser arranged this debate, expressing eagerness to hear what the students thought.

spotlight_drinkingage2_10Mr. Fell and Dr. McCardell represented both sides of the matter. Mr. Fell argued that lowering the drinking age was “too much of a risk” as he presented slides that graphed the fall in fatal highway accidents in recent years. After allowing the crowd to interpret the graphs, Mr. Fell concluded that, “26,333 lives have been saved since 1975 because of minimum drinking age laws.”

“It’s not 1984 anymore,” said Dr. McCardell in a tone that seemed to allude to George Orwell’s famed novel as much as it did to the drinking age legislation. The national minimum drinking age was officially established in 1984, although the change was slow to sweep through states for the ensuing decade.

spotlight_drinkingag5_10Among McCardells arguments was that the “one size fits all” national minimum drinking age and the 10% highway funding incentive is not good social policy and goes against American federalism. As former president of Middlebury College and current president of Sewanee, Dr. McCardell claimed that anyone who spends 24 hours on a college campus can see that the drinking age of 21 years old is a law that is “fostering abnormal behavior” in the form of binge drinking behind closed doors. “No normal person takes shots in a locked dorm room,” he stated in defense of his theory. “Out in the open is better than behind closed doors.”

Questions focusing on social and legislative change flooded the crowd at the Barone Campus Center. The debate began to focus on the cultural aspects of the issue as students, faculty, and members of the community lined up to dispute Mr. Fell’s and Dr. McCardell’s arguments.

Meanwhile, surveys to gauge the crowd’s opinions were being passed down the aisles. While one student openly disagreed with lowering the drinking age, it was clear that most in attendance sought change. Students whispered amongst themselves in agreement with Dr. McCardell’s points. spotlight_drinkingage_10Greg Behrens, a current Fairfield student, expressed that, “The drinking culture must change, but it cannot happen until the circumstances change. The current drinking age is unrealistic. It creates an unhealthy and dangerous concept of drinking.”

Afterwards, FUSA officers posed for a photo with Mr. Fell and Dr. McCardell. Both debaters offered literature on their arguments, however most of Mr. Fell’s literature remained untouched. Dr. McCardell offered bumper stickers that read “Serve at 18, drink at 21?” Their popularity was apparent as few remained once the crowd dispersed.

Whether or not the legislative changes become a reality, Fairfield University is clearly dedicated to bringing about the social changes that are, according to Dr. McCardell’s supporters, critical. Organizations within the university have been educating students about alcohol and the responsible choices that can save lives. Fairfield’s position remains progressive and realistic despite the current drinking age.

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