Debaters triumph

  If students want the drinking age to be lowered to 18, the UVM debate team has some convincing arguments against it.   Debate team members were assigned the duty of defending the current drinking age of 21 at the recent Huber Debates, a tournament held on campus and featuring teams from Regis University, Bard College and Claremont McKenna College.   Arguing that the drinking age is best left alone, UVM debaters drew the most votes from the informal audience and sealed the victory along with the Claremont McKenna team, who argued with them.   “There is considerable, empirical proof that when you lower the drinking age to 18, a lot of bad stuff happens,” said Alfred Snider, professor and debate team director, who teaches courses on argumentation and persuasive debate.   Among the “bad stuff” is increased sexual assault, binge drinking and consequent increased drunk driving arrests, Snider said.    One of the main arguments for lowering the drinking age comes from those who call into question the many other activities, perhaps equally dangerous, that one can legally do at the age of 18.   “I think it would be a good move considering that we are allowed at 18 to be in the army and smoke tobacco,” junior Hannah Kitzmiller said. “There would be less underground taboo rituals, [and] drinking would be more accessible.”   Opponents of the current drinking age often point to other countries where alcohol consumption is allowed at 18 – and sometimes even younger – as models of proof that less stringent drinking laws can be successful.   At the debate, opponents of the current drinking age said that many European countries have laidback tolerance as well as a culture centered on family and moderation where alcohol consumption is more permissible.   A 2007 Bloomberg report found that for countries within the European Union, 20 percent of all road-accident fatalities were the result of drunk driving, whereas in the U.S., that number was at 32 percent in 2008, according to data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.    However, using these comparisons as evidence of a less dangerous drinking environment in Europe may be inaccurate, Snider said. “Actually, there’s a tremendous amount of binge drinking in Europe,” he said. “The U.K. has the highest amount of binge drinking in the world, especially among women. There’s not as much drunk driving in Europe because of mass transit. It’s a different transportation society.”   UVM debaters also argued that lowering the drinking age to 18 would encourage more alcohol consumption for the younger high school population, the 15- to 16-year-old demographic.   Lowering the age would result in a trickle-down effect, because 18-year-old high school seniors could lawfully buy for their peers while they are still in school, the team argued.   UVM’s debate team has 30 active members divided into teams of two. Two teams are currently heading to Oxford and Cambridge for tournaments, and an additional team is traveling to Slovenia over Thanksgiving break for a workshop where students will be represented from 27 different countries.   Then, over winter break, the team will participate in the world championship held in Manila in the Philippines, with 400 teams from 67 countries hoping to articulate their way to a title.   “It’s the big dance,” Snider said, adding that the team accepts anyone with an interest in learning the art of debate and persuasive argument.   “We’ll train you and if you like it, we’ll send you to competitions,” he said.