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Ohio State students: Underage people will still drink

OSU President Gordon Gee and other university Presidents around the nation draw both praise and scorn for their call for an examination of the legal drinking age. The university leaders want lawmakers to open a debate on whether to lower the legal drinking age from 21 to 18. The leaders have succeeded in one aspect; they've opened a debate.

"College drinking life isn't really going to change," 20-year-old Becca Vallera said.

Vallera's a junior at Ohio State University. Vallera said, at least at OSU, underage students are going to get their hands on alcohol because she said most of them know someone who is already of legal age - which is 21 in Ohio.

"They're going to try new things and you almost have to test your boundaries. People binge drink and then they realize, some people realize they shouldn't do it and other people just don't realize it and they just keep doing it and that's when it gets dangerous," she said.

And binge drinking is the behavior about 100 college and university heads are trying to get a handle on.

Kenyon College president Georgia Nugent said she's been in higher education for 30 years. Nugent said she sees a connection binge drinking and the 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act.

"Just about that time is when we see the rise, the birth and the rise in this particular kind of drinking on college campuses," Nugent recalled.

And she said saw the adverse effects of binge drinking happen at Kenyon College in 2005.

"I have been in that, in that circumstance of calling the parents of a child who has essentially drunk himself to death. And that's a horrible position to be in. And my belief is that this law has not improved that situation but has actually worsened it," she said.

Ohio State University president E. Gordon Gee said he, too, has seen the impact of alcohol abuse on campuses across the country. But he said he's not necessarily in favor of lowering the drinking age.

"It bothers me a lot. I happen to be a very devout Mormon; I've never had a drop of alcohol in my life. I would prefer that no one drinks. So I'm probably a prohibitionist. But in this case I'm the president of universities and young people are going to engage in drinking and so the question is not whether they do it but the question is how do we best create an environment in which there is responsibility by the university and by the students," Gee said. Ohio's Mothers Against Drunk Driving executive director Doug Scoles agreed there is a serious problem with binge drinking on college campuses. But he said there will be consequences if the minimum drinking age is lowered.

"So to take that back down to 18 we will see a definite rise in impaired driving crashes among 18- to 20-year-old population," Scoles said.

President Ronald Regan signed the Federal Minimum Drinking Age Act into law in 1984 which also took away federal highway funding dollars from states which did not comply with the law.

The federal law went into effect in Ohio in 1989.

Scoles contended research shows the law has saved thousand of lives.

But Nugent said experience with drinking at an earlier age maybe mid- to late-teen years like in some European countries might create more responsible drinkers.

"There is a huge amount of research that's been done on this topic, and frankly it's very mixed. There's a lot of discussion and debate out there among researchers. And we think that probably the American public has not seen that full panoply. They're tending to see perhaps only one side of the issue because that is what has been put out before the public more aggressively," she said.

Back on the Ohio State campus, 20-year-old Steve David, who will turn 21 in December, heartily disagrees with the federal law.

"I think that it's awful the way that the federal government coerced state governments into making 21 by that whole thing with highway funding. And I think there's really no reason for it to be at 21 because of the extent to which alcohol is already accessible to people who are 18. And also I think it's kind of a ridiculous policy that people who can serve in the military can't drink in the country they defend," David said.

MADD's Scoles disagreed with David's argument.

"I think there's a disconnect between going to war and being in the military and having the right to drink. There are as much data that shows, for example, the physiological development of the brain doesn't take finality until age 21. That was some of the science behind raising the law to begin with," Scoles said.

23-year-old OSU student Lydia Gurigus from Alexandria, Egypt was asked if she thinks lowering the drinking age will reduce law breaking and binge drinking.

"Would it make any difference? Like, students here drink when they're 18 and they don't care about the law, which is not right, but that's what they do. Maybe if they lower the age they will start drinking when they are 18 and they will get over it when they are 19. I really don't know. But I think it won't make any difference," Gurigus said.