The debate over Mifflin fits into a broader dialogue about how to best address binge drinking on college campuses. Is it by enforcing strict rules against underage drinking? Is it through alcohol education and awareness?
What I've seen in my five years in Madison -- four of which were spent as a UW undergrad -- leads me to believe that we could significantly reduce the negative effects of alcohol on the campus and the city if we focused our efforts on stigmatizing bad behavior instead of stigmatizing alcohol.
Nothing short of hiring a Mormon missionary for every UW freshman is going to be successful in discouraging students from drinking. Especially not when Memorial Union is the number one bar (I assume) in the city. The expectations that the sermons in high school and college set are so unrealistic that it is natural for the 18-year-old listeners to dismiss their elders as out-of-touch party-poopers.
In my ideal system, drinking would be a right at the age of 18, but it would be a right that could be taken away if you get into a fight or piss yourself in public. Alcohol vendors would scan your ID to see if your right had been revoked.
In that system, a sharp social distinction would be drawn between those who drink responsibly and those who are incapable of doing so. Sure, it would still be easy to get booze from a friend, but you'd have to suffer the indignity of asking him to buy for you, similar to a OWI convict asking for a ride.
I admit, my perception on this issue is partially influenced by the injustice I feel I suffered as a responsible freshman drinker at UW. Why did the empty beer cans spotted in my trash can (on three separate occasions) earn me the same probation as the kid who destroyed a bathroom stall in a fit of drunken rage? Or the guy who was taken to detox twice first semester?
I don't think my system would do away with all the problems associated with drinking. Some people will never learn how to drink responsibly, no matter what. There are a variety of genetic and environmental factors that will always allow for the existence of dangerous drunks. But unless we're prepared to ban alcohol completely (really ineffective), I think teaching people to drink responsibly is the best way to minimize all the unfortunate antics that we associate with Mifflin.
Follow The Sconz on Twitter or Facebook to get regular updates on city and state politics. Tune in to the radio show everyday between 10-11 a.m. on 1670 AM WTDY. Please send anonymous tips, interview requests or any other comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.