Letter to the Editor: Law fails to solve age-old problem

On my 30th birthday, March 16, 1979, a letter that I wrote to The Rider News was published under the headline “Wallace not urging party crackdown; asks balance between playful, serious.” I have no recollection of the events that triggered my letter, which I referred to as “the beach party in Poyda, the beer flood in the infirmary, and the smashing of the window in Dean McRoberts’ office,” and I have only a rather dim memory of the youthful idealism that inspired my impassioned plea for the “balance between the playful and the serious in our cultural life” that can occur when parties are civilized and learning is a joy, but nobody at Rider will ever forget Gary’s death.

Some of us long-timers will recall that in those days the drinking age was 18, the pub was open every day, and many faculty members gathered there after classes for intellectual discussion and companionship. Parties for students in faculty homes were highlights of the year, and they gave students an initiation into adult life and possibly some actual role models for the responsible use of alcohol. They also gave faculty an opportunity for free and informal conversation where we were all on more equal ground than in the classroom.

On these occasions, the faculty learned at least as much as the students did, and the bonding made classroom experiences richer. When the drinking age was raised, the intention was to save lives by preventing driving under the influence, but I do not know if the change in the law succeeded in achieving that goal. I do know that we lost opportunities for creating a healthy climate of equality and free discussion among faculty and students. Students are understandably alienated by a system which says that they are adults for the purposes of voting and dying for their country but children when it is a matter of having a good time.

In addition to alcohol legislation, many other things have changed in the past 28 years. Since I turned 30, I have a different last name and so does Rider, but some things remain the same. We still have a long way to go in achieving the kind of cultural balance that I spoke about in my letter to The Rider News so long ago, and I still have a dream that one day we will get there.

Obviously, things at Rider in 1979 were far from perfect, as my own words show, but I am proposing the hypothesis that the alleged “cure” for the problem of alcohol abuse on college campuses by raising the legal drinking age has been far worse than the disease.

— Carol Nicholson
(formerly Carol Wallace)
Professor of Philosophy

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