Why I So Passionately Fear Binge Drinking
Last week, I came under heavy media attacks over my choice of rhetoric on a complex issue to which I sought to bring attention. The attacks were drawn not so much by my actual observations—with which many of my critics found some merit—but by the piece’s jarring title, startling photo, and male-centric perspective. It all ended up being misunderstood as blatant gender bias, overshadowing the important message. So why did I stick my neck out like this? Here is why.
Thirteen years ago, the day before my son was supposed to come home for Christmas during his senior year at Stanford, my wife and I got a call from the emergency room telling us he was gone. The pain from the loss of a child is unimaginable to anyone that hasn’t experienced it. As hard as you might strive to conquer it, it leaves an anger in your heart that sometimes comes out in ways that are difficult to control.
My son made a foolish risk-reward decision in an attempt to have some fun, a decision that ended his life and sent mine spinning out of control. After my first marriage broke up and I moved back to Boston, lifelong friends I had made through my fraternity at MIT—men of upstanding character spanning five decades in age—helped me put my life back together. I would not have made it without them.
I have spent the last 12 years trying to repay that debt to the organization that brought us together, chairing a capital campaign that raised $1.6 million to refurbish our national historic landmark chapter house, and serving on my house corporation board. Today, as president of that board, I share responsibility for the well-being of 40 young men—good kids, with no resemblance to the Animal House stereotype. And yet, whenever they host a party I go to bed terrified.
The reason I go to bed terrified is that our country’s drinking laws are misguided, counterproductive, and the source of serious unintended consequences. These laws have not and will not stop teenagers from drinking. To the contrary, these laws and the college regulations designed to enforce them have transformed drinking into a potentially deadly ritual. I have seen young men take multiple shots of whiskey without pause and 100-pound young women chug half a bottle of vodka (a practice called pre-gaming) while waiting in line for a party where they know they will not be served alcohol because they have not yet reached their 21st birthday. This is repeated nationwide, every week, everywhere and will continue as long as our misguided laws remain on the books.
Every year, the problem gets worse. The campus counsels and committees and endless discussions I have participated in are well meaning but I believe still leave many young people at risk. The deans who run these committees do not have the power to change the law, and have their hands tied when it comes to recommending practical policies designed to make underage drinking safe—because any drinking at all, no matter how moderate and measured, would run afoul of the law. The entire conversation is smothered by a culture of political correctness that makes you want to scream.
So, I screamed. My progressively frantic attempts to focus on the real problem have exacted a high personal cost. The backlash has unintentionally damaged those around me, an unintended consequence for which I am deeply sorry. But if I can help save one student’s life, and one parent from the anguish I live with, it will have been worth it.
Bill Frezza’s opinions are his own and not those of the many corporations, organizations, and not-for-profits with which he works. The text of the original column can be found here. STATEMENT: Sexual assault is a serious crime, for which the victim is never at fault. Those accused of sexual assault should be charged and tried in a court of law. If found guilty, they should serve long prison sentences.