Inside Higher Ed reports today on the “surprising finding” that despite university efforts to decrease binge drinking and other risky behaviors, the number of drinking-related deaths of college-age young people rose substantially between 1998 and 2005. At the same time, the rate of binge drinking itself rose from 41.7 percent to 44.7 percent.
While there is (justifiably) much hand-wringing about these stats, very few people seem to understand the ultimate cause. Colleges say they need more money and resources to educate students as to the consequences of excessive drinking. Commenters blame parents who “demonize” alcohol consumption. (Yes, that’s our problem — excessive parental disapproval of alcohol — when almost any high-school principal can tell you legions of tales of parent-hosted drinking parties.)
The real culprit, of course, is culture. Colleges have developed a culture of nearly unrestrained hedonism. Binge drinking isn’t an accident, it’s the entire point of the Thursday (or is it now Wednesday?) to Sunday party circuit. For the college hedonist, binge drinking facilitates the so-called “hookup culture.” And when it comes to sex, the university message is, shall we say, mixed. Do it! (but safely) is the college theme. One university, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, apparently believes that providing student-fee funding to the Roman Catholic Foundation somehow threatens the Republic, yet will throw hundreds of thousands of dollars at a student group called “Sex Out Loud.”
Do it! (but safely) is a losing message, especially when combined with a concerted effort to demonize those private religious voices that may offer alternatives to a culture that dominates campus. From the more “staid” schools like Harvard to the national champions of the party lifestyle at Florida, “do it” dominates “safely,” and the one ultimate answer — a different moral code — is simply not an option. After all, some of the same people arguing for a better path may — in their heart of hearts — not support same-sex marriage. And we can’t have that kind of voice on campus, can we?