Debate on drinking age takes center stage at SSU
Students hear pros, cons of lowering eligibility age to 18
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By Sarah Dowling  February 16, 2012 10:37 am

Sonoma State University students filed into the cooperage on Monday night to witness a debate addressing the question as to whether or not the drinking age should be lowered to 18 or should remain at 21.

Each side was represented by an expert on the subject of underage drinking and how it can function in the college atmosphere. The aim of the debate was to teach students about both sides of the argument and to help them create meaningful dialogues on campus and apply it to their lives.

Prior to the event’s commencement, the presenters were seated beside each other; smiling and laughing, perhaps sharing stories of their own college days and of their work in the field of alcohol research. Both carried themselves in a very civilized, intellectual way despite the fact that a debate between them was about to follow.

The debate began with an introduction by the Director of Associated Students, Inc., Erik Dickson, who encouraged students to interact, to write down and ask questions and to participate in the debate process.

Arguing in favor of the current drinking age was Professor William Dejong, who since 2001 has been involved with the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health and has authored more than 400 professional publications in the fields of alcohol and tobacco control as well as other fields.

Dejong started off the debate by asking the individuals in the audience what they thought about current drinking age and policy. This act engaged students right away, several of which voiced their opinions either for or against the current law. Some students brought up the differences between America and European countries, where the age is lower. Others took a developmental position stating that the brain is not fully developed at 18, and alcohol consumption can have adverse effects.
One audience member brought up how one can enlist in the military and die for their country at 18 but cannot legally consume alcohol until 21. All of these issues were addressed by the commentators throughout the evening.

Representing the opposing side was Barrett Seaman, who spent 30 years as a correspondent and editor for Time Magazine and wrote a book about contemporary college life. His book, "Binge: Campus Life in an Age of Disconnection and Excess," is the product of two years of reporting on 12 different college and university campuses and offers an unvarnished but balanced view of how students at some of the country's best institutions conduct their daily lives.

“Binge, despite its title, isn’t just about college drinking, it’s about the intensity of contemporary college life,” Seaman said. “Peer pressure, the rising mental health problems amongst students, the dating or shall I say hooking up culture and most importantly in my view the growing disconnection between students and their professors.”

Seaman observed many things while researching his book and applies these experiences when advocating for the lowering of the drinking age. He puts these ideas into practice in a non-profit he works with, Choosing Responsibility, which is dedicated to improving the climate in which young Americans are exposed to alcohol.

Seaman brought up several shocking statistics and displayed them on the Power Point presentation projected behind him. Seaman said “each year across the country more than 1,000 people die from alcohol, not because of drunk driving but from falling asleep dead drunk in snow banks, drowning, falling out of dorm windows, or literally drinking themselves to death.”
Seaman continued to discuss relevant statistics such as these before passing the microphone over to Dejong to share with the audience a tragic story of how he was first introduced to the harm that alcohol could cause. He told a story about a friend who drove drunk and was caught in a series of events, which led to his early death.

Dejong said, “It was one of the few times in my life that I was rendered absolutely speechless.” He continued to state that at the time of this horrific incident, the link between alcohol consumption was not clear when it happened. Dejong knew first hand that his friend was a lousy driver, and that is where the attribution went.

“He was a terrible driver, and that’s how we explained it to ourselves so we could keep drinking,” Dejong said.
Dejong used this story to initially draw the audience in so that when he presented his statistics and logic for his belief that the drinking age should remain at 21; each audience member now knew his personal connection and felt the emotions behind his words.

Surprisingly, Dejong pointed out he does not particularly care about underage drinking; what he cares about is the adverse harm that can result from drinking more than one should.

Dejong agrees with the current policy because he feels the law has had a protective effect despite the fact so many people ignore it and despite the fact it is not really enforced. It has had a protective effect based on the statistics and information he presented to the audience.

Seaman continued to counter with his own statistics on why lowering the drinking age to 18 would be most beneficial, bringing with it the idea that when someone turns 18 they are considered an adult and can get married, enlist in the military, enter into a legally binding contract and many other things that were listed.

Seaman said, “We as a society have deemed that an 18-year-old is a full citizen in every respect except one, and that is they can’t drink. To me that is a confusing message to send.”

Both presenters brought evidence to support their standpoint on the drinking age and presented their ideas in a way that did not adversely attack the other side. Rather, both gentlemen were able to respond to the arguments of the other in a civil manner and towards the end of the debate were able to share with the audience the areas where they agreed.

Both agreed that something has to be done. Regardless of whether or not the drinking age changes or remains the same, both felt more reform has to happen and cited more education, changes in policies, and further enforcement of the laws revolving around alcohol use as ways to do so.

The night concluded with a lengthy question-and-answer session with members of the audience to cover any bases that were not touched upon in the initial debate.

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