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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Sunday, February 05, 2023

The inevitability of underage drinking: How UW-Madison fails to adapt

As Jack and his posse of friends walked up to the entrance of the bar, ready to get their fake IDs checked, all they could do was pray. Standing in close proximity to other prospective underage drinkers, everyone had the same idea in mind: A wish that the bouncer and bar would be somewhat lenient tonight. 

About 30 more minutes passed while waiting in line. The bar, like most nights, was overcapacity, forcing those waiting to let the packed crowd temper out of the bar one by one. 

With each drunk 19 year old that left, a glaring stare from those in line ensued. Those who waited envied having that first cheap mixed drink of the night. Instead, the line moved a couple feet for every person that left, leaving hope that a large group would soon call it a night. 

The group finally made it to the front of the line. Now, it was gametime.

The studious brains of Jack and his group had quickly checked over the information on their IDs, memorizing addresses, zip codes and birthdays at a bare minimum. Each of the boys stepped in front of the bouncer, handing them their cheap ID with a distorted picture, hoping their long wait would finally pay off. 

To their surprise, the bar did not care at all. A quick check to see if they were actually 21 years old sufficed, and off they went into the abyss of cheap liquor and possible misdemeanor charges. 

This is a common scenario for the majority of underclassmen here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A hope and a prayer that their ID will work for the night is a constant theme for every weekend of the school year. 

On the other hand, some weekends leave many bars to become much more strict on underage alcohol consumption, leaving many students’ limited options for their inevitable indulgement. 

Yet, what happens when bars do get stricter? What effect does this have on the majority underage student body that elect to drink, go out and have fun on a Saturday night, but have nowhere to go but home? 

Alcohol inevitability: a collegiate phenomenon

Similar to many school years, the start of the 2022-23 fall semester left many UW-Madison students stuck with expensive drinking tickets for simply following the masses. In early September, the ever-popular City Bar, informally known to have a large underage presence, unveiled a goldmine of underage drinkers — leaving 137 out of 143 patrons with a drinking ticket. 

While this is a huge win from a Madison Police Department (MPD) perspective, questions arise of the effectiveness of these underage drinking tickets: what good does assessing thousands of dollars in fines do for UW-Madison’s students? Anyone who owns a fake ID can use the second copy that comes with their purchase of the ID to go out the next day and party even harder. 

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Simply put, these fines have zero effect on the ability for these students to drink, but rather can put these students in difficult situations to drink much more irresponsibly. The drinking age being 21 years old leaves many college students for three quarters of their college experiences with an alcoholic ultimatum. Either take the risk of drinking illegally, albeit abiding by unethical regulations, or wait until the arbitrary age of 21 to indulge. 

While some members of the student body, arguably a minority, choose to not drink until they are 21 years old or abstain from drinking outright, there is a point to be made that many American universities have established an inevitable theme to alcohol consumption. Whether this is from a need for stress relief or simply accompanying social events with alcohol, a majority of college students experiment, disregarding the legality of the consumption. 

This  is extremely prominent on UW’s campus — especially considering Wisconsin’s drinking culture.

Although, with bars being forced to be stricter on the underage drinkers as a result of these bar raids, these specific patrons are left with one choice: drink without supervision. 

A disregard of licensed bars’ security measures

City Bar is not the only bar to be victimized by these “raids.” This is somewhat commonplace for bars on State Street and in downtown Madison during the fall semester, where MPD establishes a heavy police presence in hopes to scare off the new freshman class from testing their fake ID’s abilities. 

While there is likely always going to be a bar in Madison that will have some allowance for underage patrons, the likely scenario that almost all bars become strict enough to save their own liquor licenses is definitely a possibility. 

Given this inevitability and the lacking supply of safe places for students to consume, the demand to maintain the social aspect that comes with the college experience, including alcohol, will create unhealthy situations for these students to take part in. Instead of being able to go to a bar, where there is a bouncer who is constantly watching the patrons inside for any wrongdoings as well as a bartender who controls the amount of alcohol that is given to a patron, students are forced into unsupervised house parties where none of these security measures are present.

This is perpetuated even further by the ridiculousness of the 21-year-old drinking age, which forces America’s adolescence to start with this experimentation when they are out of the supervision of their parental homes and beginning their independent life. 

UW-Madison tried to make strives to combat these house parties in the past through the PACE project. Created in the early 2000s, the coalition was designed to combat dangerous house parties to promote safe house parties with input from students, police and faculty. Although, as the university has gotten larger with a growing student body, the program ended in 2010, leaving a simple Canvas course about alcohol that is required to be taken during SOAR, UW-Madison’s orientation program, in its place. 

If students were given the opportunity to start this experimentation with alcohol before they came to the university, many of these problems would be fixed. These students would be able to understand their personal limits with alcohol and be taught the correct ways to drink. Thus, the supervision that the university once felt was important but later disregarded would not be as critical for the health and safety of their students. 

This is not to say that UW-Madison, or the city of Madison for that matter, has any sway in the protection of a 21-year-old drinking age; however, other college towns of similar calibers have imposed alternate strategies. 

In Champaign, home to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, bar patrons are allowed to enter at 19 years old, instead of the nationally required 21 years of age. This is somewhat similar to Wisconsin’s long standing rule of allowing alcohol consumption with parental guardians present, allowing for anyone above this age to also be present in a bar. Yet, Urbana-Champaign allows for individuals aged 19 years or older to be present without a parental unit. 

Instead of creating programs that do nothing for the student body surrounding alcohol consumption, UW-Madison and the MPD need to work together to create a structural program to allow these students to enjoy themselves, as they will inevitably drink regardless of the law. By working together on this issue, students should be able to enjoy themselves at a greater number of bars where there are increased safety precautions, instead of house parties.

Ethan Wollins is a current editor of the Opinion section and serves on the editorial board. He is a current Junior studying Political Science and Journalism. Do you believe that UW-Madison should revise their strategies surrounding underage drinking on and off campus? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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