At Harvard, professor Henry Wechsler's landmark college alcohol study revealed that binge drinking on college campuses was much more extensive than anyone believed. "Our society has taken alcohol as a rite of passage. It's like living next to a fish factory -- after a while you don't smell it anymore."
But it's hard not to smell something when a student dies. That happened last week at the Uiversity of Minnesota to a freshman who had been drinking beer (recall the rule of thumb: one beer equals one wine equals one vodka). At Dartmouth, the fraternities (on terminal leave) have served beer to members and guests for as long as they can consume it, which is very long, especially for those who are inspired by the achievements of "Animal House" prototypes.
Writing three years ago at Princeton, undergraduate Wes Tooke rejected the easygoing assumption that it was always so, as witness, e.g., F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose citation is not reassuring given that he died of drink. (The implication is that if you write "The Great Gatsby," it's OK to go on and die from booze.) It was not always so, wrote Tooke; drinking is more intense today. Statistics from the Princeton Health Center record that the number of students treated for alcohol poisoning more than doubled between 1983 and 1999.
What to do? There is a hard libertarian edge out there that can't be entirely ignored. One Princeton student, a former varsity athlete and a campus leader, said it in so many words: "I am 20 years old. What I choose to do at 2 in the morning in my club is my business."