PEI: Yale in denial

Drinking is Yale’s single largest problem. If any other student activity sent unconscious students to the hospital on a monthly basis, it would receive more attention than binge drinking. Moreover, if any of my friends were legitimately at risk for long-term alcoholism, there is no way I would know because the majority of them — myself included — meet the criteria for concern.

The culture of binge drinking at Yale is difficult to avoid, unless you hide out 24/7 in some dark corner of the stacks. By contrast, in my four years at Yale, I have never personally encountered the purported culture of rape. Nor do I feel that Yale-NUS poses any immediate risks to my health and safety. I also would not say the new president, whomever we pick, is likely substantially to change the Yale experience. Yet we engage in heated debate over these issues over and over again.

So let’s finally give the alcohol problem the attention it deserves. The first step is admitting we have a problem. Notice I say we. I, like most of you, am a fiercely competitive pong player, and I have my share of mildly to extremely embarrassing alcohol-induced stories. And granted, some of these stories will make great fodder for storytime with the grandchildren, but most would be better left in the past.

Yale, we have a problem. The health concerns are overwhelmingly obvious. Every weekend, students of Yale ingest poison en masse. With alarming frequency, we continue ingesting until our livers can’t handle anymore, and we vomit.

Then add on the whole slew of indirect damages of binge drinking — from embarrassing dance floor tonsil hockey to acts of vandalism worthy of the Executive Committee. If two people are hammered and have sex they regret the next morning, does that mean they raped each other? Honestly, I have no idea. It doesn’t appear to be anybody’s fault. But I do know I’d blame it on a culture of binge drinking before I’d blame it on a culture of rape.

So why do we do it? It’s not because we enjoy a fine beer. Otherwise we would all be drinking Duvel over bowls of Gouda cubes instead of shotgunning Natty Ice. It’s also not because we need it to be social. My friends are just as awesome sober as they are drunk. And past a certain point, the positive social lubricant effect rarely outweighs people’s annoying drunk tendencies: abrasive honesty, crazy clinginess or stealing, destroying or urinating on other people’s belongings.

If you’re now thinking, “This isn’t a Yale problem; it’s an American university problem,“ then you’re right. There is something unique about the American university environment. It is the only place in the world where a concentrated group of young adults living away from home are legally prohibited from drinking. We do it because we can’t. It’s the inescapable, age-old lure of the forbidden fruit.

Before I turned 21, the attraction of the whole bootleg culture of underage drinking was irresistible. It was the last frontier of the forbidden grown-up privileges, and there was no parental presence to rain on our parade. Didn’t matter how terrible the beer was, or how dank the frat basement was. Free beer was virtually unmissable.

But when I turned 21, some magical switch flipped in my head. Suddenly, I wasn’t drinking just for the sake of drinking anymore. I enjoyed it for things like the taste, the mild buzz, the chill bar environment. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying beer pong isn’t fun anymore, or that now I never have one too many. But I’m no longer shoving through a dirty basement full of sweaty zombies beelining for the cooler full of Dubra punch.

What’s the solution? It’s a no-brainer — the drinking age should be 18. For Yale’s sake, and for the sake of every other American university, treat us like the adults that we are. All you have to do is imagine the Yale of not too long ago when beer was always on tap in the dining hall. Do you see people rushing out after dinner to chug 30-racks?

So Yale, I hope you will join me in admitting that first, we have a problem, and second, the drinking age needs to change.

Natalee Pei is a senior in Berkeley College. Contact her at


  • InterestedInBiology

    “By contrast, in my four years at Yale, I have never personally encountered the purported culture of rape… Yet we engage in heated debate over these issues over and over again.”

    So I’m just going to leave this incredibly narrow, small-minded, and offensive line here, just in case anybody missed it. It’s a real gem.

    • Dowager

      It’s her view, her experience AND her opinion. She’s allowed to have it without being called names by YOU. Can you possibly express yourself without all the hostility and sarcasm?

    • ldffly

      Is her observation that she never “encountered the purported culture of rape” false because it might stimulate an unpleasant emotional state in some readers (“offensive”), or do you believe that her observation is a surreptitious denial that there is a rape culture at Yale?

  • JackJ

    I agree with Natalee. Let’s have one age of maturity and be done with it. Not so long ago to those of us in the Baby Boomer generation the drinking age was 18, the Draft was 18 but alas the voting age was 21. If we reset the drinking age to 18 because people are “old enough” to decide then should we continue to have college havens where drunk and disorderly problems are handled administratively? If each individual is responsible for her/his behavior should public drunkenness become what it is everywhere else? A criminal misdemeanor. Would this encourage “right” actions on the part of college students?

  • The Anti-Yale

    “We do it because we can’t.

    Nice line.

    Nice insight.

    Forbidden fruit is always sweeter, especially if fermented.

  • Branford73

    > Forbidden fruit is always sweeter,
    > especially if fermented.

    Even better line.

  • jamesdakrn

    And thus I question again why alcohol, a substance that can actually kill you is legal whilr cannabis remains illegal and frowned upon.

  • River_Tam

    The drinking age isn’t going to change until 18 year olds act more responsibly around alcohol.

    Yeah, maybe the drinking age causes binge drinking. Or maybe 18 year-olds are immature idiots.

    • lev

      You say the drinking age won’t change until behavior changes; she says behavior won’t change until the drinking age does. Chicken and the egg.

      Or not, because legislation is influenced by lobbyists and interest groups, not the behavior of America’s college students.

  • Leahhhhhh

    Beside the occasional comment towards rape, comments whose purpose I don’t quite understand, I really agree with this article. Having gone to school in Europe, where, although students drank heavily, there wasn’t the same culture of binge drinking for the sake of getting drunk or the culture of drinking secretly in some dark, sweaty basement, even BEFORE one goes out, I was pretty shocked by how badly many Yale students handle alcohol. Part of that is about having grown up around alcohol, and part of that is about drinking beer rather than liquor. I don’t think the drinking age for hard liquor should be 18- it should stay 21. But the drinking age of beer should absolutely be 18! I’ve heard stories from the ’70s and ’80s, even at Yale, where colleges would bring in a keg on a Friday night. Students would get tipsy on beer, but there was never enough to send multiple people to Yale health, plus students weren’t consuming ridiculous amounts of vodka and rum in their rooms beforehand. Of course it doesn’t mean people didn’t make fools of themselves or would occasionally get hurt, either at Yale in the ’70s or while I was at school in Europe, but it does promote a safer, more responsible drinking environment, one in which a whole lot less can go terribly wrong!

  • River_Tam

    I’d like to add that I still think the sexual culture (note that I’m not saying ‘misogyny’, although there are misogynists at Yale [as there are everywhere]) is a bigger problem than the alcohol culture at Yale.

  • The Anti-Yale

    What is a “sexual culture.?”

    Is the priesthood a “non-sexual” culture?

    Is the world of amoebic mitosis an “asexual culture”?

    • River_Tam

      Don’t be obtuse, PK. A ‘sexual culture’ is how a culture (in this case, Yale College’s culture) perceives, treats, and has sex.

      Amoebic mitosis is asexual reproduction, although I suppose you could grow a culture of amoebas.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “A ‘sexual culture’ is how a culture (in this case, Yale College’s culture) perceives, treats, and has sex.”


    I know how YDN student columnists and posters “SAY” they perceive, treat and have sex.

    I also know that Diogenes never found his “honest” man.

  • yalereadertoday

    The bingeing, alcohol consumption pressure, ‘gulp and guzzle’ mentality, and other creatively stupid ways to get alcohol into your system really is doing nothing but harming our youth, and exposing them to lifelong scars. You are accountable for your own actions, whether at 16, 18, 21, or beyond; the consequences of bad decisions just get worse/more serious and detrimental the older you get.
    The quiet MUST speak up and become the new voice on campus. Don’t let fools take you down, you are smart enough to know better. Yalies, stick to your upbringing that helped you get to Yale and success will continue to follow you. **Get used to saying “NO” to temptations because you will have to do that the rest of your life or risk humiliation and death of: a great education, career, marriage, health, or your life.**

    Be a leader in a new frontier of teaching socially responsible drinking. The mentality that changing the drinking age will cure the problem makes me puke! PUKE, PUKE again: “we do it because we can’t” mentality will take you far in life…far DOWN!

  • The Anti-Yale

    Yalereadertoday has obviously not learned the lesson which this writer has, nearing age 68:

    YOUNG people do NOT take advice from OLD people.

    It’s taboo.