Opinions, Column

Introducing Responsible Drinking at BC

That alcohol consumption is entirely legitimate, in accordance with Catholic teaching and with sensible moral thinking more generally, is a truth I referred to in a previous column. The benefit that alcohol consumption can bring to social gatherings was something I emphasized, based on my own experience of drinking. For legal reasons, it is understandable that BC may be reluctant to encourage alcohol consumption as a part of most campus events because such large segments of the student population are underage.

For those 21 or older, though, the lack of integration of alcohol into a great deal of on-campus activities is a disservice. It expresses an attitude which seems to me to be based on a condescending view of students’ self-control, and it passes over a valuable opportunity for aiding in students’ moral education.

First, I want to express my belief that the only justification for not consuming alcohol among the student body, at least in general, is that for many students it is illegal. While for some health considerations or academic demands may be good reasons to personally give up alcohol, moderate consumption for most students presents no moral danger.

I think this can sometimes be obscured because of the government’s ban on alcohol for those under 21. A certain sort of person, who cannot accept that the law could be without good moral justification, tries to reason with himself that the restrictive law follows from the morally dangerous status of alcohol consumption.

This way of thinking can only hold up if we equate drinking in general with the extreme states of intoxication that follow binge drinking, or with the clearly morally problematic phenomenon of drunk driving. Such irresponsible behavior can of course affect more than the drinker himself, as is especially obvious in the cases of alcohol-related car accidents.

Of course, though, such irresponsible behavior should be separated in our minds from drinking itself. It seems to me an overstep to categorically ban all alcohol consumption because it bears a connection, in a very limited number of cases, in activity that poses a threat to others. As a government policy, perhaps, it may be our best option, but the above reasoning gives no reason for classifying drinking itself, in a responsible manner, as a moral issue.

This includes people under 21. There is probably a good argument to be made that one has an obligation to obey the law under normal circumstances, and for this reason drinking by underage students ought not to be tolerated, either by individuals or by Boston College as an institution.

The assumption that I too often encounter, however, is that consumption of alcohol itself, not the harmful effects of binge drinking, is suspect. As college students, it can seem that authority figures have so little faith in our self-control that their thought of us drinking is impossible to detach from an image of excess and irresponsibility. Thus, one of my professors will frequently say a prayer to the class on Fridays, and include in his intentions for us invariably include that we “stay sober.”

No explanation is ever given for why we need avoid being under the influence of alcohol, but it comes across as an implicit claim that we cannot be trusted. Similarly, an email that has been sent out to residents of my dorm who are of drinking age before every football game has reminded us to not, among other things, dance on tables if we choose to tailgate at the Mods before a game. Even if we of legal drinking age, it seems, the representatives of the University are not fully able to trust that we can handle ourselves properly.

It seems much more appropriate to discuss such matters with the problem drinkers, as opposed to implying that a mass email is required to stave off some of the debauchery that they expect will inevitably follow from giving students the opportunity for drinking. This is incredibly condescending, and contributes, by addressing us as basically sub-rational beings, to the very attitudes toward alcohol use that it attempts to discourage.

There is also a reluctance, I find, to include any alcohol consumption at student events on campus at which it might seem appropriate. The effect of this is to make such events unattractive for students to attend, and it makes impossible for students to become experienced drinking in settings where they ought to practice the sort of self-control that will be required of them in regard to alcohol upon graduation.

To give one example, I am a member of Alpha Sigma Nu, a Jesuit academic society. Earlier this week was the first “social” of the year. The event was titled “Cupcakes with Jesuits.” I do not think I was the only one to find such an event to sound a bit juvenile.

The purported purpose of the meeting was to provide an opportunity for students to meet Jesuits and other Alpha Sigma Nu students on campus. The society is composed entirely of seniors, and given the lowering of inhibitions that is the effect of alcohol consumption, it seems only appropriate that such a “social” would be centered around not cupcakes, but refreshments. It would also signal that the students were trusted to be adults, able to refrain from overindulging while able to enjoy the benefits of the social lubricant.

To simply exclude alcohol from University-sponsored events directed at students is to send a message that we cannot be trusted to act responsibly, and to pass over the opportunity for providing spaces in which to practice the art of social drinking.

Such social drinking is an essential component of the adult social world, and to incorporate it into University-sanctioned events, such as drinks in receptions after lectures or for events to which only seniors are invited, would be a much more sensible policy. than the current one, which seems to verge on a denial that anything but trouble can come from be anything but fully sober.

Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor

October 22, 2017