Back in my high school in Korea, dating was banned. Let me repeat: Dating was banned. Lots of questions are probably spinning through your head. Why in the world would a school ban dating? Was it even possible to stop students from dating? Well, in any case, dating was indeed banned, and still is. The relevant article in the school’s code of regulations states, “Two students of the opposite sex can be expelled when found in an enclosed space for non-academic purposes.” But even the threat of expulsion failed when it came to preventing natural feelings arising among boys and girls in their late teens. Many students still dated, some were found in enclosed spaces for non-academic reasons, and every few years, a couple would actually be expelled. The entire student body and most of the faculty knew that students dated, but it was generally condoned until a particular case was publicized. Alas, there lay the irony: The consequences were harsh, but the interpretation was lenient. Dating was banned, but it wasn’t stopped.
A number of things surprised me when I moved to the United States to attend college. One of the things that surprised me the most was that the age limit for drinking alcohol was 21. In Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, the age limit is 16, in Canada and Australia, 18, in Korea, 19, but in America, you can drink only if you are older than 21—and I was told America was a liberal country. It made me wonder what the underlying rationale could be when the respective age limits tell you that required responsibility increases in the order of driving (16), smoking and voting (18), and then drinking (21).
My surprise did not end there. Here at college, underage students casually drink alcohol—in a manner and with a conscience that does not characterize a person violating anything. Of course, to criticize underage drinkers would be grossly hypocritical on my side. But I must say that it is quite amazing how people who are serious about abiding by the rules can be so lenient when it comes to underage drinking. And I would add that it is remarkable how everybody, including the University administration, quietly condones underage drinking, but nobody mentions the slippery slope that arises when it becomes OK not to conform to certain laws.
The logical solution to this problem is to lower the age limit to a more reasonable level. No, this will not poison or wreck havoc on American youth, largely because it doesn’t really change the status quo all that much. That it is illegal is not underage drinking’s strongest deterrent. What deters us from over-drinking is the foreseeable hangover on the next morning and the indefinite consequences that follow a night that you don’t remember. The argument that college students lack the responsibility and sound judgment to drink is nonsensical.
Moderating the age limit for drinking will also restore authority to our legal system. In math class, is it not true that only one counter-example suffices to contradict the entire theorem? Likewise, the status quo of underage drinking disproves the general principle that something decreed is inviolable and encourages us to adopt a less rigorous attitude towards any other law. Seen from this regard, even a stronger enforcement of the current age limit would be better than the current uneasy state of affairs.
In America, young adults who can drive, smoke, and vote cannot drink. They cannot drink, but they drink. The age limit for drinking in the United States is one of the strictest in the world, and the would-be consequences are harsh, but what is decreed is not what is realized. Students under the age of 21 are banned from drinking, but aren’t stopped from drinking.
Shin Kim is a first-year in the College.