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Sounding Board: Alcohol use and misuse

As part of Sounding Board, a series where The Daily Gamecock's opinion section sends out a columnist on campus to talk to USC students about their views on hot-button issues, we interviewed 10 students to find out how they feel about alcohol use and misuse on campus and in the student body at large. USC leads the SEC in high-risk drinking behaviors, which are on the rise at USC. More than 22 percent of freshmen reported on an AlcoholEdu survey that they had engaged in behavior defined as "binge drinking" three or more times in the previous two weeks. In the six months between August 2016 and January 2017, 187 students were hospitalized for alcohol-related reasons.

The 10 students interviewed were a second-year finance student who wished to remain anonymous, second-year finance student Ben Lavigne, second-year sport and entertainment management student Mary-Paige McLaurin, fourth-year public relations student Michael Wieland, first-year chemical engineering student Aseel Al Rawahi, third-year psychology student Sung Kim, first-year marketing and economics student Madeline Owens, first-year merchandising student McKenzie Yard, second-year journalism student Jordyn Seibles and fourth-year political science and business student Dominique Douglas. Their views and the questions they were asked have been presented below with minimal edits made when requested.

Do you believe that alcohol use is a problem at USC?

ANONYMOUS: I mean, yeah. There's definitely a lot of alcohol use at our age, with Five Points. I know a lot of people drink heavily. Sometimes people mix it with other stuff, like Xanax, so yeah.

BEN: It's rampant underage drinking here — I know at the beginning of the year there were tons of hospitalizations, and ambulance calls to campus and Five Points and stuff. So it's probably, I'd say it's a problem.

MARY-PAIGE:  Yeah, I'd say it's a problem, I think, especially with Five Points and people with fake IDs and stuff, and students who don't know what they're getting into and going to the peer pressure side of it, definitely.

MICHAEL: I'd say it's a problem. I'm an RM on campus, and so I see a lot of freshmen going out, and I'm having to call the ambulance for people when they get too drunk. It's definitely toned down this semester, a lot more than last semester, but last semester there was a very big increase in hospitalizations and whatnot, so I'd say it's a problem.

ASEEL: Actually, I don't drink alcohol. My religion doesn't allow me to. I think I have nothing to say about this because I never drink alcohol.

SUNG: Yeah. Definitely. Living in a dorm for an entire year, listening to drunk guys say "whoo!," having property damage all over the halls because they're drunk as f***.

MADELINE: Yeah. I would say yeah. I mean, every person I've been friends with, come in contact with — all they want to do is drink all the time. And I think that's an issue, if you can't do normal things soberly.

MCKENZIE: I feel the same [as Madeline].

JORDYN: No. I don't. I haven't heard about any recent drunk activities or bad things happening because people were drunk.

DOMINIQUE: No. I personally don't drink alcohol, and my friends don't, so I don't see the issue.

USC has an unusually high number of alcohol-related hospitalizations. What, if anything, should the school be doing to lower that number?

ANONYMOUS: I know they did a lot with the fraternity lots, and beer and wine versus alcohol. I don't know how much they can really combat it, though. I feel like it's going to happen, especially at a big 30,000-person school.

BEN: They should increase awareness about things to do besides going out and drinking because I feel like that's what a lot of people want to do, but if they're aware of other, safer alternatives, like that Carolina Productions offers, or if there's maybe more things for them to choose, they might be tempted to do something different, or switch it up instead of going out.

MARY-PAIGE: Stuff that student government has done with Cockstock this year, and pairing with Carolina Productions, doing things that are alternatives. Something to do on Friday night that's not "let's go downtown."

MICHAEL: There definitely needs to be more emphasis on other alternatives than going out. Definitely, if there was more information, more events happening more regularly, especially towards the beginning of the year, then it would show that there are more opportunities. I feel like freshmen know that there's other things to do, but because they're not advertised as much, they don't feel like they have to or want to go.

ASEEL: You know that survey? For alcohol education? I think the university did a great job on that, so I don't see any way they can do more than that.

SUNG: I don't think there's any possible way that they could do it, due to the fact that we're in college now and we make our own decisions. Some of us aren't the brightest bulbs in the package. So I don't think there's any actual, feasible way to do it. That doesn't mean they shouldn't try, though.

MADELINE: I feel like it's hard, because I feel like the school tries to put on events to draw students to come here instead of going downtown, but yeah — I don't know.

MCKENZIE: I think the school should do things, but I don't know if they'd be effective. I know they did that thing at the beginning of the year where fraternities and sororities where they had to be approved and stuff, and I guess that reduced the hospitalization, but it didn't really help. Girls and guys are going to do whatever they want despite what the school does, so I don't think the school can really do anything.

JORDYN: I didn't know that. I mean, I don't really think there's anything they can do.  It's up to the students to stop being reckless.

DOMINIQUE: I'm not too sure.  I guess it comes down to regulating with the companies that are supplying alcohol.

Why is alcohol use such a big issue on college campuses, in your opinion? What makes college students drink more or drink less responsibly than other people?

ANONYMOUS: It definitely has a lot to do with the age — people being independent for the first time. Maybe not necessarily having the full responsibility of results. Also, I think it has a lot to do with stereotypes, you know, "crazy college student" stuff.

BEN: It's people's first chance to. A lot of people come here and have the opportunity to make their own decisions and want to experiment, and see what it's all about.

MARY-PAIGE: I think peer pressure. Not just, like, being pressured, but like your roommate or your suitemates are going out and you don't want to be the one stuck in your room on a Friday night kind of thing. You do want to go out. And that's where, if you've never had alcohol before, that's where it gets out of hand quickly.

MICHAEL: I think kids who started drinking in high school, at high school parties and whatnot — now that they're here, there's just so much more opportunity to drink and get drunk and go out with their friends and go out with different people. It's so much more readily available. So I think just because the opportunity is there in a greater way than they've ever experienced before, they just want to go out and experience it.

ASEEL: I think especially students have more pressure than anyone. Their grades, and I think every student here doesn't have his family around him, so maybe pressure and depression. Stress.

SUNG: It's because of the freedom, basically.  I mean, basically, just, all through your elementary school, middle school, high school life, you're told to do this, not to do that. And you either follow it to the letter or you visibly follow it — like you pretend to, but do it secretly — but now that you're in college, no one's there to restrict you, you make your own choices and, like I said, sometimes college students don't make the brightest of choices, and so that's probably why we have such a high alcohol usage.

MADELINE: I think peer pressure is a huge thing. In high school, you could drink if you wanted to drink, but in college, in order to have fun, you're expected to drink.

MCKENZIE: For me, I think it's the whole idea of college. The college mentality. Here, I feel like one of the first things I heard about when I was thinking about coming here was "oh, the downtown area is so fun, the bars are great!" That's all you hear, for the most part. So that's what I think.

JORDYN: It's probably because there's an age limit, like a restriction on it. They may feel stressed out, and they cope with that stress by drinking alcohol. Or they just are being irresponsible and don't know, like, what alcohol can really do.  Which is dumb, because the whole AlcoholEdu thing explains it a lot.

DOMINIQUE: Because they're permitted to do as they please versus being monitored by their parents at home, as far as intake of alcohol, so they might abuse that power because it's in their hands.

Do you think bars in Columbia bear any responsibility for our high-risk drinking behaviors and hospitalization rate? If so, what should they change? If not, who or what is responsible?

ANONYMOUS: For sure, obviously. You're supposed to be 21 to get into a bar. You know, it's not super hard with fake IDs here. It would make a difference — a lot less underage kids would be going to bars, and I'm sure 21-year-olds that have had more drinking experience are less prone to be going to the hospitals.

BEN: I wouldn't say — I wouldn't blame them. Like, the fact that the bars are right next to campus is an encouragement for students to go there, and I guess they advertise student deals or whatever, so they obviously want students to come there, but there's nothing stopping you from choosing to do something else. So I wouldn't blame them entirely ... I think it's mostly on the students, because there's people that make the decision — not to drink, not to get involved in these sort of things — and stick by it. Whether their friends or their roommates are doing it or not. It's completely up to you. It's who you're going to be, and what kind of precedent you're going to set for yourself on campus. You can only control yourself, you can't blame other people for your decisions.

MARY-PAIGE: I wouldn't put it on the bars. It's a lot on the student to make those decisions, and that's where it comes to having the university having those alternate programs for students to do. So they have the option not to go. Saying, like, "Hey, guys, tonight why don't we go to the movie or go to this Carolina Productions event or something else on campus," or that kind of thing ... It comes back to your values coming into campus. What do you think you are going to get involved in? It's up to you to stand up, if you're not going to drink. People shouldn't be shunned for not wanting to drink, as well. It's a campus culture, as well.

MICHAEL: You can't really blame the bars for doing their business. Like, their line of work is to serve alcohol to people, and since they're on a college campus, most of their customer base is college students, so I don't think they can really be blamed for the increase in hospitalizations that we have. Just make people more aware of what's on campus and what other opportunities there are ... I would say it's definitely still on the student. They're required to take AlcoholEdu before they even come onto campus, and even if they don't pay attention to it, they should at least know the risks. No one but the student knows what their limits are, and so if the student wants to test their limits, test their boundaries, that's on them.

ASEEL: Like I said, I don't know anything about the bars.

SUNG: Definitely, yes, definitely. Stop allowing so many girls in. When I say that, though, It's just that like, I find it so amazing, that for a guy to get into a bar when he has a fake ID, he might not have a chance. But if a girl has a fake ID, the bouncer's like, "Okay, go in." He doesn't really care. More girls in the bar, whoop-dee-doo. That's one issue. And also, two, if they can actually, I feel like bouncers could try harder to look at an ID and see if it's fake or not. I mean, sometimes some of these IDs aren't the best-made, anyhow, so I mean, just try harder to find them.

MADELINE: I think it's more the kid's responsibility. Like, the bar will serve them, but I feel like a good amount of the time bartenders are like, "this person needs to go home or whatever, they're too drunk," or whatever, so if you're hospitalized, or if you get too drunk, or you get sick, it's your fault. It's not the bar. You chose to do that.

MCKENZIE: I mean, everyone goes downtown, and you see these kids' IDs — I mean, honestly, I feel like the bouncers laugh and are like, "It's fine," and that's how they make money, so how else are they going to go.

JORDYN: They may, because — I haven't been to a bar yet, personally — but they may not be responsible and ask for IDs. They could heighten their security, maybe, and not let people under 18 in bars.  Just letting people over 21 drink, or get into the bar.

DOMINIQUE: Yeah, just because I know they're not checking IDs.  They have to make sure the ID is the person in front of them, obviously.

America has one of the higher legal drinking ages in the western world, at 21. Should we change it?

ANONYMOUS: I mean, I don't know.  I've heard a ton of s*** about like, 18, and how it used to be 18 in the U.S., but I don't think it's a huge deal. I kind of don't think it should change.

BEN: I think the higher drinking age makes people want to drink at a younger age because people want what they can't have. But I wouldn't advocate changing the law to 18 or something because if you're allowing high school seniors access to legal alcohol, the number of issues I can see arising — just, everything, because they're going to buy, and the DUIs and drunk driving accidents are going to skyrocket because high schoolers are already getting in a lot of accidents, and if you allow them to purchase alcohol for themselves and go and drink whenever they want, I'm sure that people will just — die.

MARY-PAIGE: I don't think it's something that should be raised. I also don't think it should be lowered. Obviously, they raised it to 21 for a reason. They probably did plenty of research on it. I don't know that they did, I just assume ... I just think, obviously, it was picked for a reason. When my dad was 18, he could buy beer. Not liquor, obviously. So, yeah.

MICHAEL: I think definitely, that it's so much older than other places around the world plays a part in it ... And when I was talking about it with my parents, when they grew up, when they were 18 they could buy beer. The drinking age increased with them, they were pretty much always able to buy alcohol once they turned 18, and my mom actually put it in a kind of funny, but like a decent way: When you're 18 you can sign up for the draft to go and fight for your country, but you can't buy yourself a beer. It seems like it doesn't really even out, where I can fight and die for my country but I can't just buy a beer at a bar somewhere. I'm not saying it should be lowered, I'm just saying it's interesting what kind of decisions the U.S. government allows people to make at 18 versus what you're not allowed to do.

ASEEL: If you change from 21, if you increase it? They would find a way to drink alcohol. They will make fake IDs, or let their friends buy them, so I think it's not a solution to increase the age.

SUNG: I think, see, we should change it. But only because of this: 18-year-olds and younger are drinking anyways, so it just seems kind of like... what's the point of keeping a law that will get you in trouble if you're going to do it anyways. It just seems kind of counterproductive. I mean, other countries have done it, and they seem perfectly okay, so I think they should. More research would have to be done for that.

MADELINE: In Europe kids are like, "Oh, I'm going to drink a beer," and it's not a big deal, but here it's a big deal.

MCKENZIE: I disagree just because I feel like if you can serve in the Army you should be able to drink a beer. I also feel like, since you're waiting, you know how kids are. The fact that they're waiting, that they can't do it, makes them want to do it. So that's just how I feel about it. A lower age would help.

JORDYN: I think it should be changed, only because countries on the other hemisphere, the Eastern Hemisphere, their drinking ages are like 15, 16 and they don't have as much of a problem. I feel like they don't have as much of a problem only because once you are drinking, once you're 21, you won't feel the need to do it as much.

DOMINIQUE: I don't think so. Not at the rate we're going.

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