As the new school year begins, freshmen may be surprised to find out about Virginia Tech’s Party Positive program.
Party Positive is at best characterized as a program that acknowledges the illegality of underage alcohol consumption while giving students tools to practice responsible drinking. On the other hand, Party Positive essentially teaches young college students how to commit a Class 1 misdemeanor and prevent being caught.
What other crimes get this sort of special treatment?
To try to legitimize alcohol education, one might compare underage drinking to teen sex. Most school systems do not have abstinence-only sex education, because they recognize sexual activity among teens is all but unavoidable. Their best bet is to mitigate the risks of venereal disease transmission and teen pregnancy, taking teen sexual activity as a given.
The problem with this comparison is that sex between teens close in age is legal, while underage drinking is generally illegal.
Safe sex is taught in schools to avoid the unwanted public health issues of STDs and young, unprepared parents, not because there is anything legally wrong with teens having sex. However, underage drinking is illegal and has serious criminal consequences.
The most common response to this dilemma of alcohol education is to portray drinking as a common feature of college life, and urge that it be done responsibly.
However if underage drinking should be considered a college tradition — albeit a potentially damaging one — why is it illegal? And why, setting aside the criminal aspect of it, does the university penalize students harshly when they commit alcohol-related offenses?
It would seem that the university merely wants to act as an arm of local police, enforcing penalties when students are caught drinking irresponsibly. Students facing alcohol-related criminal charges are penalized enough by the authorities.
So what does the university officially say about underage drinking? According to the Campus Alcohol Abuse Prevention Center, “You should consider not drinking if you are not of legal drinking age.” Is that what it means to have a hard line against illegal drinking? Do we tell people “You should consider not robbing cars” or “You should consider not driving under the influence”? Of course not.
To my knowledge, there has not been public discussion relating to alcohol education on campus. Most students have just accepted that Tech seems to legitimize illegal underage drinking yet punishes students if they are caught engaging in this behavior. My solution: eliminate Party Positive and similar programs and focus on discouraging all illegal alcohol use.
However, if the university acknowledges behind closed doors that underage drinking will happen, it should lessen the degree to which students are punished.