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College -- where drinking is (not) part of the social life

By Cynthia ParsonsEducation editor of The Christian Science Monitor / November 3, 1980


For most students, it's got to be one of the hardest adjustments of all time. It's tough enough just leaving home and familiar territory. It's really difficult to go from being a "high achieving" senior to a lowly "will-I- make-it" freshman.

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On top of all the other adjustments is the one to a social life in many ways diametrically opposed to what you, your friends, and your family considered acceptable.

If you drank in high school, you did so without the approval of school authorities, and probably without home approval, either. You had to sneak around to do it; had to steal it or get someone older to supply you; had to keep one eye out for the police.

But, bang! You get to college and everyone is pushing drinks on you. Beer, wine, hard liquor -- they flow in dorms, in fraternity and sorority houses, in local bars, in on-campus pubs, and on a few campuses in the student union. As one alumni magazine stated: ". . . drinking is part of the social life."

Oh, yes, you'll be treated to a few "alcohol education" lectures (with slides or film and a Q&A session), in which you're warned about the chemical dangers of alcohol in bloodstreams and the like, and about the alarming (and growing) rate of drunken-driving injuries and fatalities.

But you'll almost always be exhorted to "drink responsibly"; that is, not to abuse ("use, don't abuse") alcohol.

And some college authorities will serve you wine and cheese; some will provide kegs of beer at many university- sponsored events; some grant liquor privileges to social clubs; and most do little or no policing of school parties, separating out those of legal drinking age from those who are not. (This is particularly true in states like Georgia and Massachusetts, where the legal drinking age recently moved from 18 to 19.)

In other words, you spent the first 17, 18, or 19 years of your life alcohol-free -- or at least allegedly alcohol-free; yet that first step onto a college campus, and all prior restraints are waived. And many of the very authorities who previously exhorted you to purity now expect you to join the adult world, where -- as they argue -- it's "natural" to drug yourself with alcohol.

But something very serious has been happening. Drunken students are not only ruining their bodies and their academic life, but are physically destroying their surroundings. The relatively harmless prank of throwing rolls of toilet paper onto the trees from the roof of the frat house (still done, of course) has escalated to ripping the sink out of the bathroom wall and heaving it through a sliding glass door.

And the student suicide rate has climed, with nearly all such deaths alcohol-related. That is, some measure of self- respect has been drugged out of these troubled students, and, lacking the right counseling and loving support, they have taken this fatal step.

The situation has become bad enough that you'll find that drinking rules are tightening on many campuses:

* No parties where drinking is the only activity.

* A nonalcoholic drink must be available.

* Food must be served.

* Some entertainment must be going on; e.g., dancing, listening to rock. . . .

* If you're caught by local police for drunken driving or disturbing the peace, the college dean will not get you off.

* You'll be fined, and possibly expelled, for wanton destruction of college property.

I'm sure that most of you reading this article know the statistics: