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Dinner -- and Drinks -- at the College Cafeteria

March 13, 2005|Catherine Welch | Catherine Welch is a senior at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

It's another Friday night in the campus dining hall. Adelin Cai and I show our IDs, stroll up to the bartender and ask to taste the featured wines. I order the Shiraz, and Adelin returns to her soft drink because her cheeks turn red with more than a few sips of wine. We put down our trays, sit at a table draped with a white tablecloth, and unwind.

As president and vice president of the student government at Colby College, we might talk business, or we might talk about music. What we won't do is awkwardly hide should a professor walk by and see us with alcohol.

Since we initiated a dinner and drinks program in November, Colby students who are 21 and over have been able to purchase up to two glasses of beer or wine to enjoy with their meals on Friday nights. They carry their trays into a room attached to the main dining hall, check out the week's featured beverages and order.

That such a program exists may shock some people, but from our perspective, what's shocking is that it's not more common. The popular image of the college drinking culture makes the scene at Colby atypical, but there's really nothing remarkable about it. We're adults who can legally drink having beer or wine with dinner. Isn't this the approach that administrators and parents wish all students who drink were taking?

There are those who worry about this program priming students for a night of heavy drinking, but instead, they should be asking why drinking in moderation is so rare on campuses. I would argue that it's the mystification of alcohol in our culture. It's taboo to talk about it. Administrators fear lawsuits and students fear losing privileges, so the issues are avoided except in the context of incidents of alcohol abuse, which paint the dismal portrait of college-age drinking that exists today, or the choice to be part of the chem-free scene.

But many students, including me, don't fit into either extreme. We are neither bingers nor abstainers. It was with these students in mind that we designed our program. After all, won't this third option be the reality in the real world? Colby's dinner and drinking program is just another way to help prepare students for responsible adulthood.

Underage students who look into the room and see their peers socializing while drinking a microbrew from a glass are being sent a better message than the one that comes from a keg party. Perhaps they'll realize that drinking for the sake of drinking -- and getting sick or out of control -- isn't the way to go.

Nor do these underage students resent the privilege that their of-age classmates enjoy. They know that the college didn't set the distinction between age groups; the law did. And these students can look forward to being there soon themselves.

In the meantime, their raised eyebrows at first sight of fellow students sipping wine with dinner will grow fewer and further between, proving that the program is working.

The demystification has begun.

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