February 19, 2016

20-Year-Old Graduate Student Sues New York Attorney General Over Drinking Age

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Matthew Uhalde grad  — a 20-year-old Cornell student — has sued New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, claiming the legal drinking age makes him feel “ostracized and excluded” from the company of other graduate students.

The lawsuit was prompted by an unfortunate experience at a graduate student social at Big Red Barn last week, according to Uhalde.

Despite having received an invitation to the social, Uhalde said the manager threw him out because he was underage.

“The manager said it was a liability having me there, even if I didn’t drink,” Uhalde said. “It wasn’t the first time something like that had happened. I was feeling excluded and fed up.”

Matthew Kibbee grad, said he sympathizes with Uhalde, calling the drinking age in the U.S. “absurd.”

“I can certainly see how he would feel ostracized because graduate students frequently go to bars,” Kibbee said.

Uhalde said his lawsuit “isn’t about alcohol at all” but about his right to associate with his peers.

“The issue is not that I can’t drink, but rather that it’s hard to go out,” he said. “I have a legal right to associate with my classmates.”

Agreeing with Uhalde, Kibbee said he thinks the complaint has more to do with the broad age range of graduate students rather than the drinking age.

“Some people start graduate school in their early twenties, others start in their thirties or forties once they’ve gotten married,” he said. “In general it can be hard to socialize with people who are significantly older or younger than you are.”

Nathaniel Rogers, grad, said that while he never felt like alcohol consumption was “the foundation of his graduate student social life,” he recognizes that the age limit can be a strong deterrent, especially for Uhalde who entered graduate school at 19 years old.

“I can sympathize with the fact that at 19-years-old, a grad student might have a lot more in common with the undergrads he or she T.A.’s than with his or her academic peers,” Rogers said.

Prof. Kevin Clermont, law, said Uhalde is a “fine student,” but “his lawsuit does not have a snowball’s chance.”

Uhalde said he never intended for his lawsuit to be publicized nor did he do this for attention.                                                      

“I’m only doing this for me,” he said.