Mad 70s Meet MADD 80s

This featured ad appeared in the early seventies foreshadowing the events that would reverse drinking age requirements ("U.S. Department of Safety Transportation Ad").

“The students will control their own alcohol consumption and regulation.  Only state alcohol laws will be administered on the campus.” – Mike Dewitt

During a spring 1978 SGA meeting, President Mike Dewitt called for the end of JMU’s complex alcohol regulations (Dewitt, “Senate”).   As the decade came to a close, students hoped to free restrictions on alcohol and parties by replacing more stringent campus policies with general state laws.  Yet, the alcohol-related consequences throughout the seventies rose bringing with it a growing social awareness. While students declared the rights to drink without the school’s interference, national and state lawmakers had other plans as they reviewed drinking age requirements. The great experiment that generated student freedom in the seventies triggered multi-level societal responses by 1980, and questions about how young is too young to drink.

Students have become aware that the open keg parties have become a problem (Hagen).

Peer-generated Awareness

As alcohol policies progressed on James Madison’s campus, an analysis of articles from The Breeze show that vandalism remained a primary concern.  One article in the late seventies, titled “Vandals wreck cars, shrubs, at JMU expense,” featured an interview with campus police chief Jay Crider who cited students as the perpetrators. He acknowledged “they often are intoxicated at the time of the incident” (Beale, “Vandals,” 24).  A second adjacent article reported that “the one percent or less of the campus community” committing these acts affects the entire student body (Beale, “Alcohol,” 24).   The severity of these acts gained the attention of fellow students.

As students grew aware of the negative behaviors of others, they took action.  Fraternity members called on the student body to “lend a hand” in correcting Thursday night student center parties (Landes et. Al, 4).  An oral communication class challenged bystander students to “recognize these problems and do something about it.” The members cited that continued vandalism would result in increased tuition and “strict alcohol policies” unless vandals were turned in and punished (Oral Communication, 23).  SGA officers Doug Wessen and Darrell Pile confirmed the need for student “responsibility” when repeated vandalism occurred in the student center bathrooms (Wessen and Pile, 3).  Furthermore, after a “near fatal accident” of college students returning to the campus from an outing at University Farm, the SGA sent a letter to top administrators requesting a life-saving “shuttle service” that would “encourag[e] groups to provide free transportation at no cost to the organization to prevent students from driving to and from the Auto Auction and the University Farm” (“Senate Proposal #115”).  By 1978, a number of news articles concerning negative drinking behaviors suggests that students feared the irresponsibility of their comrades  would restrict or prohibit the further liberalization of campus alcohol policies.  So they confronted their peers and proposed solutions, thereby heightening awareness and accountability.

The counseling center began a regular column alerting students to the dangers of drinking ("Counseling Column").

Societal Awareness

Campus, community, state and federal agencies also took steps to promote responsible drinking.  As early as 1974, students participated in a controlled drinking-under-the-influence study at the campus (Bess, “’But Officer,’” 1-2).  Then, the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Project held a conference at the campus and faculty members participated (Dulan, “Drunk driving,” 7).  By the latter half of the seventies, a faculty-senate committee formulated to research alcohol abuse on campus acknowledging that students had no intentions of altering drinking habits.  The committee suggested “an education program” to alert students of the dangers of alcohol (“Committee Report”).  The Counseling Center began an “on-going column as a way of publicizing information” in The Breeze concerning “alcohol use and abuse” (“’Responsible drinker,’”3), and they offered classes about alcoholism during the 1977 spring session (“Counselor education,”22).  In addition, The Breeze featured a community advocate for alcohol awareness among youth (“Guestspot,” 2) and published U.S. Department of Transportation ads citing fatality statistics due to drinking and driving (“The Number One,” 3).  One JMU student, sentenced to a community education class after an alcoholic violation arrest in Harrisonburg, promoted the success of the Pear Street Center and its contributions to encouraging sobriety (Miller, “Alcoholic leaves,” 21).  Despite the progression of awareness, by 1979 Virginia lawmakers increased the “off-premises consumption” age to 19 and the law took effect by 1981 (“Virginia ABC’s).  Apparently, James Madison University was not the only environment dealing with problematic issues concerning youth’s drinking habits.

Though many began to recognize its negative impacts, it was the fate of one thirteen-year-old girl that consequently forced college campuses across the nation to review alcohol policies.  A drunk hit-and-run driver struck and killed Cari Lightner on her way to a church event in the spring of 1980.  Her mother, acting with a close friend, began their impassioned fight against drunk drivers formulating the organization known as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).  Chuck Hurley, chief executor of MADD, explained that prior to 1980 “drinking and driving was how people got home. It was normal behavior” (Davies, 10).  Furthermore, although the federal government contributed “$35 million into Alcohol Safety Action Programs,” the reality remained that “nearly 60 percent of fatal crashes” involved alcohol (Davies, 10).  MADD became the wake-up call.  Its lobbying group effectively persuaded President Reagan to endorse the Uniform Drinking Age Act in 1984 implementing a federal twenty-one year old drinking law requirement (Davies, 11).  When the James Madison SGA proposed unrestricted alcohol policies that would only be subject to state law, they had little knowledge that federal law would soon curtail the legal drinking liberties for the vast number of students.  As the college continued to grow, upper-class students moved into apartment complexes.  By the end of the eighties, the students got what Dewitt and others asked for.  The student handbook reduced its alcohol policy to a mere page, yet it was applicable to only a mere fraction of students living on campus (James Madison).


Images cited:

Cover Image:”U.S. Department of Safety Transportation Ad,” September 18, 1973, 3. Frame created by Charity Derrow in PowerPoint, April 4, 2012.

“Counseling Column,” The Breeze, February 22, 1977, 2.

Hagen, David, “Fool ‘n’ Me,” The Breeze, January 23, 1979, 17.

“U.S. Department of Safety Transportation Ad,” September 18, 1973, 3. Frame created by Charity Derrow in PowerPoint, April 4, 2012.

Works Cited:

Beale, Theresa, “Alcohol causes irrational actions,” The Breeze. December 1, 1978.

Beale, Theresa, “Vandals wreck cars, shrubs, at JMU expense,” The Breeze, December 1, 1978.

Bess, Susan Lynn, “’But Officer, I Have Had Enough To Drink …’” The Breeze, July 24, 1974.

“Committee Report: Student Relations,” Control #FA 93-0305, Faculty-Senate Minutes, Box 1, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, April 7, 1977.

“Counselor education classes set,” The Breeze, April 22, 1977.

Davies, Laurie, “25 Years of Saving Lives,” Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 2005, Accessed March 15, 2012,

Dewitt, Mike, “Senate Minutes,” Control #SGA 2001-1010, Student Government Association Papers, Box 1, Series 2, Folder 3, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA, April 4, 1978.

Dulan, Tom, “Drunk driving topic of police conference,” The Breeze, February 20, 1976.

“Guestspot: ‘Alcohol agency needed for valley,” The Breeze, February 4, 1977.

James Madison University Student Handbook 1986-87, Harrisonburg, VA:  James Madison University.

Landes et. Al, “Obvious alcohol problem needs to be fully realized,” The Breeze, October 1, 1976.

“The Number One Killer of Young Americans Is Young Americans,” U.S. Department of Transportation Ad, The Breeze, September 18, 1973.

Oral Communication Comm 200, Group 4, “Reader’s Forum:  Campus Vandalism ‘costs students money,’” The Breeze, April 20, 1979.

Miller, Kevin, “Alcoholic leaves bottle to reform others:  At Pear-Street-Center, alcoholics find sobriety,” The Breeze, December 4, 1979.

“’Responsible drinker’ doesn’t violate rights,” The Breeze, January 1, 1977.  Articles by the Counseling Center continue to appear on a regular basis.  See 2/8/77, 2/22/7, 4/5/77, and 4/22/77.

“Senate Proposal #115, Senate Minutes,” Control #SGA 2001-1010, Student Government Association Papers, Box 1, Series 2, Folder 3, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA, April 4, 1978.

“Virginia ABC’s 75th Anniversary, 1934-2009,” Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Accessed 3/5/12 from accessed 3/5/12.

Wessen, Doug, and Darrell Pile, “Responsibility key to policy changes,” The Breeze, February 14, 1978.