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 firstname.lastname@example.org.