America has always had a bittersweet relationship with alcohol. Prohibition in the 1920s displayed that America, though Puritanical in its underlying beliefs, cannot subsist long without its favorite drug. More than half a century later, another spike in conservatism pushed the legal drinking age to 21 in every state. Today, college underclassmen slink in back alleys and fraternity basements, drinking heavily while many academic administrators sweep the issue under the rug.
While there is no way to tell if lowering the drinking age would dramatically reduce the risky behavior associated with binge drinking, it is hard to tell what the current law has accomplished. Allowing younger students to drink in a safe and supportive environment could be a means to teach the responsible social consumption of alcohol. Once the allure of the forbidden has been diminished, fewer students may feel the need to drink themselves into a dangerous stupor.
Many colleges and their affiliated local law enforcement spend a considerable amount of time and effort punishing students found with alcoholic beverages or fake identification. This time and money would be better spent instituting programs that bring members of the academic community together, not necessarily to get drunk, but to engage in mature social interaction in the presence of alcohol. Though it may be unrealistic to expect a legislator to champion this issue, it is important to keep an open dialogue and consider the possible uses of alcohol as a positive social influence instead of merely a degenerative activity.