College campuses consider effects of lower drinking age

Campus concerns over proposed bill to lower Wisconsin drinking age

(WKBT) LA CROSSE, Wis. - A new bill being circulated in the Legislature would lower the legal drinking age to 19 in Wisconsin. Three Republican representatives began circulating the measure Wednesday.

Some people, including officials and students at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, are considering how this legislation could affect the campus culture.

It's been over 40 years since the legal drinking age was lowered to 19 in the state of Wisconsin. Jacque Bollinger was then a grad assistant at UW-Oshkosh.

"The culture was very different when the drinking age was different in that so much of what we did on campus revolved around drinking," said Bollinger, director of residence life at UW-La Crosse.

Currently, only students over 21 are allowed to have alcohol inside their dorm rooms. But 10
of the 11 dormitories are for underclassmen who are mostly underage.

"What we see more are folks who go off campus and then come back under the influence," Bollinger said.

She worries that with a lower drinking age, there could be an increase in binge drinking, vandalism and even sexual assault on campus.

But others are looking at the potential positives.

"Whether or not the drinking age is lowered... kids, if they want to drink, they're still going to be drinking," said Megan Pawelski, a freshman.

For students like Barbara Suchla, drinking was part of the culture in her small Wisconsin community.

"Drinking, I guess, kinda occurs earlier in Wisconsin. At least with how everyone talks about it," Suchla said.

While she views this as a positive, she can see how this might negatively affect students who don't have that experience.

"So they just kinda drink and don't focus on school whatsoever," Suchla said.

Regardless if this new bill makes its way into law, the UW-La Crosse police force will still be on the look out for other drinking-related offenses.

"I don't think that we'll look at the incidents any different. They just might not have an underage drinking ticket that is being enforced," said Christopher Schuster, an UW-La Crosse Police Department detective.

From here, the big question is if Wisconsin would not lose its federal highway money. Current law says that any state with a drinking age under 21 could lose out on such funding, which in Wisconsin would be more than $50 million. 

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