February 3, 2005

Making sober decisions

Every year, thousands of students lose their lives to alcohol-related accidents. Such statistics have motivated many universities around the nation to enforce a "dry campus" policy, banning all students—including those of legal age—from consuming alcohol anywhere on campus. But does such a policy really confront the issues that drive students to excessive drinking, and does it present a viable solution to problem?

History furnishes a ready example: A policy of prohibition does nothing to decrease the demand for alcohol, but merely forces it underground. Even at a dry campus, students who are so motivated will find a way to drink. The question remains, then, whether universities who implement a dry policy do so in the interests of the students, or in their own interests. Facing liabilities and lawsuits for binge-drinking on campus, it may be a rational decision for a university to ban alcohol. It is not, however, a decision which encourages the healthy development of young adults, nor one that is based in the reality of today's university students.

The University of Chicago has an enlightened policy for dealing with alcohol on campus. By trusting students not to abuse alcohol, the U of C inspires a confidence in the maturity of students, respecting their right to experiment. Such a policy does not presume that students will always make good choices; rather, it allows for students to make poor decisions from time to time, and to learn from them. We did not come to the University for it to shelter us from the real world. Tragedies do happen. But a single tragedy should provoke us to consider the choices we make. In the end, we are safer through our own consideration of the risks that we face, than we are from a law that tries to pretend that the risks do not even exist.