The Amethyst Initiative is signed by 136 presidents from colleges and universities on the East Coast, West Coast and many places in between, ranging from Syracuse to Dartmouth, Ohio State, Kenyon, Duke and UW-Parkside. Its main purpose is to open up a dialogue to reconsider the legal drinking age. But among other things, the signatories also affirm that a “culture of dangerous, clandestine ‘binge drinking’ — often conducted off-campus — has developed.”
The term binge drinking has several meanings. The Center for Disease Control defines it as a “common pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States.” Meanwhile, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism considers binge-drinking a “pattern of drinking” that consistently raises one’s BAC to 0.08 or above. In lay speech, it probably means something akin to “drinking to get drunk.” The term, however, has become so clichéd that its utterance invokes the memory of a didactic high school health-class scolding. So let’s instead refer to it as drinking to get drunk.
If the sole content of the Amethyst Initiative were the previously quoted statement, I think it would be hard to find a college president in America who wouldn’t put his or her name to it. A study from Harvard University’s School of Public Health revealed that, of the students surveyed at 119 different colleges, 44 percent drank to get drunk in the last two weeks. And 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by people under 21 comes in the form of drinking to get drunk, according to the Department of Justice. Just last Wednesday the front page of the Sun read “Cornell Expresses Concern About High-Risk Drinking.” And even before that we heard of a “surge in the number of drug or alcohol related service calls during Orientation Week this year.”
So, drinking to get drunk is widespread, and it’s no less of an issue now than ever. That doesn’t mean we haven’t tried to do anything about it. We have. But nothing seems to have fundamentally changed. This is because we approach the issue in a manner that is at once unreal and disingenuous. We denounce binge-drinking in the classroom and administrative contexts but at the same time we tout and glorify it amongst our friends. Not surprisingly then, our solutions don’t work, because we don’t want them to. If we wanted them to work then we’d address one critical thing that has never changed. Not even one iota. This is the fact that drinking to get drunk is still essentially cool.
We laud drinking to oblivion as fashionable and often see it as a virtual requisite for having a good time. Weekend in and weekend out, we hear ritualistic hoots like “let’s get fucked up,” repeated and repeated and repeated. Regularly, people talk about blacking out, not as though they had been in a car accident or willingly bashed their forehead into a wall, but rather as though they had won some sort of accolade. Others might say, in a cheery tone and without the faintest hint of absurdity, “Tonight’s gonna be awesome, I’m gonna get so smashed that I won’t remember a thing.” And on almost any given day, you can probably find otherwise thoughtful people bouncing and chanting in unison “Shots! Shots! Shots!” in much the same way you might imagine a class of kindergartners would shout at their teacher, demanding “Toys! Toys! Toys!” And vomiting, otherwise generally considered repugnant, is worn as a badge of pride. Here’s a #textfromlastnight that might at any time admirably find its way onto our facebook walls: “just spent all of my last class as a college student, vomiting in the bathroom. its moments like these i will cherish.” Crapping in the hallway never did much in the way of coolness for that one kid that every high school seems to have had. Yet, drinking to the point of vomiting does not invoke similar revulsion.
Binge drinking will always persist so long as it remains cool. Unless we change that, the rules won’t matter. Here’s an example: When a former law professor at NYU, Tom Stoddard, visited New Zealand in 1996, he was shocked to find that homosexuality was less socially-accepted than it was in our own country despite the fact that New Zealand’s laws were much more liberal in granting gay-rights. The point is that in both cases even the best rules could not usher in a change until there was a change in attitude.
Likewise, even the best policies will not change the culture of binge-drinking at our school or any other school so long as drinking to get drunk remains, basically, a cool thing to do. It’s pretty obvious that it isn’t. Let’s admit it.
Sebastian Deri is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at email@example.com. Thought Crimes appears alternate Mondays this semester.