Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Truly Amazing Observation About College Drinking That No Research Could Have Predicted!

There is a Zenith college blog I read regularly, in part because they once linked me and in part because, in addition to its role as a bulletin board for campus events, it has very funny posts from time to time, and is an excellent example of how well students write when they are allowed to do things that please them. Sometimes I think I should teach a class where, instead of turning in papers, students all do blogs instead, except if I made them do it, it wouldn't be their choice anymore and I would ruin blogging for them too.

Anyway. Previous to a live band event traditionally held after the last day of classes called Spring Fling, there was a post on this Zenith blog explaining how Public Safety was going to police student drinking and smoking through a system of barriers and wristbands. It also explained that it would be difficult to impossible to evade the ban by burying kegs, since Public Safety would also have metal detectors to locate them (unless they were made from plastic) previous to the start of festivities.

I thought they were kidding. I really, really thought they were kidding. But it turns out, unless they are pulling our leg, as you can see from the picture on the left the Zenith bloggers were not kidding, and the little scamps do bury kegs in the designated area to evade the drinking regulations. These rules, for those of us in the overaged audience who may not comprehend, mean you can't drink if you are under age and don't have a wristband; or if you do have a wristband, not bringing in a greater volume of alcoholic beverages than one person can reasonable consume. Which would be, frankly, two or three beers. Unless you drank those beers in an hour or less, in which case that would not be reasonable. Or if you drank them over six hours in which case it would be less than reasonable. Or unless you were on acid, in which case (if I remember correctly and of course, I couldn't, could I?) you could really drink a lot of beers for about twelve hours and it wouldn't affect you much at all, in the scheme of things, as long as you stayed in one place. You figure it out.

And like squirrels, apparently students sometimes forget where they have buried the keg. I'm only glad Public Safety did find it, otherwise wouldn't kegs start exploding as they froze over the winter and then began to thaw next spring? One can only imagine the carnage. And the waste of cheap beer.

Now I am sure this is my opportunity to piss off a number of people at Zenith who are tasked with policing the students' moral habits, people who do not wish to be mocked for merely doing their job. But -- and I will say this in the most neutral way I can -- I think that policing student drinking is a huge waste of time and is probably responsible for students drinking more, and less safely, than they have since the nineteenth century because they learn to drink by sneaking around and getting blasted in private. Which makes college a lot like high school. Or being Judy Garland, minus the Dexedrine and the crowds of adoring gay men.

And it is worth pointing out, as I am a professional historian and my social role is to remind people of why they do things, that these drinking rules did not come about because we believed in them as educators. No, no, no. In fact, we liked going out for a beer with our students after seminar to keep the conversation going in a less formal way, something we are no longer permitted to do, even as we are exhorted to spend more quality time with our students. Student drinking as a respectable way of whiling away the hours (and, I might add, activity to be done sometimes with adults who could model restraint) was ended as part of a general attack on "the counterculture" and higher education that acompanied the conservative counterrevolution of the 1980's. The only reason we police student drinking now is that in his first administration, Ronald Reagan forced states to raise the drinking age to 21 or risk losing their federal highways money. And then in the second administration, Reagan forced institutions of higher education to adopt strict drug and alcohol policies or risk losing *their* federal money. And this meant that colleges like Zenith became responsible, and culpable, for student inebriation and chemical indulgence.

I am sure Zenith's policies are no less incoherent than anyone else's, but isn't it time to ackowledge that policing student drinking has failed miserably? That it is a sham? A finger-wagging Potemkin Policy that stands in for real engagement with the young?

Not that conservatives think the state should interfere in anyone's private business you understand. Which is good because, according to government sources, it appears that the implementation of all these new rules have almost exactly correllated with a dramatic increase in substance abuse on college campuses.


AcadeMama said...

I'm somewhat new to your blog, but loving every minute of what I've seen thus far. Right on the money with this post, and the point about the Reagan-Era origins is particularly interesting and good to know!

squadratomagico said...

This is fascinating to read, since I was a Zenith undergraduate during the first Reagan administration, when these changes were taking place. I was one year ahead of the drinking laws as they changed: when the legal age became 19, I had just turned 19; and when it subsequently went up a year at a time, I aged at an appropriate pace to maintain my legal status.

I certainly recall going out for drinks occasionally with other students & professors after class; or attending end-of-the-year celebrations at profs' homes,complete with beer and pizza. Indeed, one of the things I loved about Zenith was the fact that there was not a strong in-class/out-of-class distinction: at least in my circle, the conversations kept on going. It was totally different from the university context I'm a part of now.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised P-Safe found those kegs... maybe the ground was torn up? They sure don't have metal detectors. That part was a joke.

And they also don't ACTUALLY require wristbands to drink, nor limit alcohol to "reasonable" amounts. They just PRETEND that they do, because actually following through would be too much work. Officers stroll through the crowd of largely underage drinkers without batting an eye...

anthony grafton said...

As an undergraduate at Chicago I could only go out to drink beer occasionally at one local tavern that usually didn't card, since even in the 60s Illinois had a drinking age of 21. But when I got to Princeton, there was a nice student-run tavern in the middle of campus where you could go for a pitcher with your seminar. Many of us still miss it, and the culture of relatively reasonable drinking it encouraged.

At Cambridge, where I am spending this term, the colleges run bars where students seem to engage in very lively conversation as they drink their beer. Outside the college gates public alcohol abuse and wild misbehavior are as rampant as they are on many colleges at home, but inside, beer and wine belong to the civilized life.

Sigh. Thanks for an excellent and historically revealing post.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tenured Radical said...

Dear anonymous,

I told you I would remove all comments related to those people with balls (and sticks) down South, and I meant it. Comment on the post, you nutwig. And get a life.


Justin said...

Woo! My photo.

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