- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 1, 2000

When a Georgetown University junior died in an alcohol-related campus scuffle last month, he suffered the immediate indignity of becoming a national poster boy for the college alcohol culture. Twenty-year-old David Shick's youthful face made it to print again when a new study revealed that 23 percent of college students binge drank frequently in 1999. Media crews descended upon the prestigious university.

But only one truth emerged from the hyperbolic media coverage, a man-bites-dog story known for years to be self-evident: Keeping hooch out of the hands of collegians is about as difficult as putting champagne in a can. The District's under-21 ban on the consumption or sale of alcohol is poor window dressing, a Prohibition aping the porousness of its Roaring '20s predecessor. Police raids of bars rarely work. Underage collegians merely peregrinate to some other watering hole du jour, a house party or the nearest friend with a six-pack or brown bottle.

The eradication of underage drinking would require a Herculean policing effort. But that's not the biggest problem. The truth about collegiate drinking lies not in the wine, but with the kind of drunken shenanigans that a minority of student drinkers inflict on the community. Universities and police must stigmatize and punish the students with the beer muscles and the angry fists. When a Georgetown sophomore knocked over a menorah on campus after a night of binge drinking last fall, the university gave him the quick boot. Yet when some scholarly thug uppercuts a more animate object say, one of his peers at a bar or on campus, punishment rarely happens. Metropolitan Police started a High Visibility Initiative last year to bust the worst public offenders, but the department needs to redouble efforts to catch and punish such behavior.

Even the elimination of alcohol-related crime, though, is not enough. The problem of self-abusive binge drinking at Georgetown is equally bothersome. A staggering 150 students were admitted to Georgetown University Hospital with alcohol-related illnesses last year, according to one university committee on alcohol. While committee members also noted that this number reflects greater national trends, Georgetown still runs a diluted campaign to prevent alcohol abuse. The university provides its students with few weekend activities to balance the pull of downtown bars. Administrators passed up a golden opportunity to regulate underage drinking when they closed the on-campus bar Hoya's to underage drinkers last Thursday night. This takes care of the underage drinking problem, one myopic administrator told the Hoya, the campus newspaper. She was seemingly unaware that most students would simply rally and boot down to the more dangerous M Street bar scene.

If the university provides the student body with such little on-campus action on Friday and Saturday nights, perhaps at least it could consider more Friday classes. Georgetown's business school offers no courses on the last day of the work week, leaving an enormous chunk of the student body idle on Thursday night. Shick, a business major, got his massive head wound early on a Friday morning. This incident serves as a reminder merely of what the alcohol culture is capable of. But all the media coverage directed at Georgetown in the last several weeks has failed to notice one thing that most students drink responsibly, if they drink at all. Alas, such a revelation makes for a sleepy story. Georgetown University and Metropolitan Police should still listen to what the press has to say. But perhaps they should realize that some behaviors are more feasible and important to stop than others.

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