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UI parents speak out about the 21-ordinance

BY GUEST OPINION | MARCH 29, 2010 7:30 AM

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The following is a version of the letter sent by the University of Iowa Parent Association Advisory Board to city councilors.

Dear Iowa City City Council,

Current and past members of the UI Parent Association Advisory Board strongly and emphatically support the 21-ordinance for Iowa City bars.

As both UI President Sally Mason and Provost Wallace Loh recently stated, this ordinance is not about prohibition but about safety. The Parent Association Advisory Board also cares about students and wants to makes their lives better. An arrest record for underage drinking or public intoxication can quickly derail a student’s future career choices or employment opportunities.

The bar owners say they can’t fully control underage drinking in their establishments. One strategy not tried yet is 21-only. The one thing that can be controlled is the age of patrons. All bars in Ames have been 21-only since the 1980s.

Tough underage laws make sense, and we support them. That said, individuals can still get alcohol elsewhere, and that is a concern to all of us.

April is National Alcohol Awareness month in the United States. It began in 1987 with a primary focus on underage drinking and the devastating effects it can have on young people. Underage alcohol use is more likely to kill young people than all illegal drugs combined. More than 1,700 college students in the United States are killed each year (or about 4.65 a day) as a result of alcohol-related injuries, according to the Annual Review of Public Health.

We do realize that with 21-only, there is a concern that underage drinking will simply migrate to private house parties in Iowa City neighborhoods. Some individuals even theorize that the downtown bars are somehow providing a community service by keeping people in a confined nine-square block area. There is no research to support keeping people in a confined area limits the problem. In fact, we believe the problem is made worse.

And, as parents, we don’t view binge drinking or “Thirsty Thursdays” as a rite of passage or a positive aspect of college life. Nor is the notion that the UI is a party school or the place to go on the weekend for easy access to alcohol for high-school and college-age students in the state of Iowa and neighboring states.

It is, in our opinion, the cumulative effect we should focus on and not let those who might suggest that “this alone will not solve the problem” sidetrack the overall objective and concern. To cite a study from the Harvard School of Public Health regarding underage accessibility to alcohol: “Whereas any single law may not have a significant impact on underage drinking, the cumulative effect of several of these laws may be strong.”

This problem needs to be dealt with directly and aggressively. The UI Advisory Board promotes healthy lifestyles and limiting access to those of legal drinking age in Iowa City’s bars is a vital step in this process. We fully support additional programs and plans of the UI now and in the future.

Susan Beck Bates, president; Michael Bates; Luann Alemao; Mike and Mary Beth Golemo; Mary Hughes, former member and president; David Hughes, former member; Perry and Ann Klein; Jon and Sharyl Leinen; Steve and Karla Maxwell; Susie Schenk


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