On Jan. 26, 1838, the state of Tennessee became the first state in the country to pass a prohibition law. This law banned the complete sale of alcoholic products in Tennessee taverns and stores. The penalty for breaking this law would have been a fine at the discretion of the court, and the money that was collected from people found guilty was used to fund public schooling. In regards to public schooling, the passing of this law had quite a unique effect on how our state and public university perceived alcohol.
Before going any further, I would recommend checking out Tanner Hancock’s Daily Beacon article titled “History of Alcohol: University of Tennessee” published in 2015. His article gives a brief overview of the university’s relationship with alcohol.
The temperance movement started in the very beginning of the 19th century. It is commonly described as a period in which there was growing support to promote abstinence from alcohol usage. The temperance movement was crucial in the passing and ratification of the 18th Amendment in 1920 which outlawed alcohol.
In much of the United States, the temperance movement and prohibition led to an increased production of alcohol in black markets. In Knoxville, prohibition led to organized crime and the ability for small-scale bootleggers to gain profits from the illegal sale of alcohol.
When looking at the impact of this law and the prohibition period in general, it is interesting to make comparisons with our university’s alcohol policy and its effectiveness. For instance, the era of prohibition warranted organized crime and did not effectively control the practices of the American population. The C.M. McClung Historical Collection within the Knox County Public Library holds multiple photographs that showcase the organized crime that occurred in the midst of prohibition. Citizens of Knoxville and the greater east Tennessee region were not ready to forfeit alcohol consumption, even though there seemed to be a push for prohibition before the laws took effect.
Take this information and apply it to the University of Tennessee. The university is considered a dry campus, which means that alcohol is not allowed on campus. There is an exception or two, but the ability to freely consume alcoholic products ceases to exist.
Although there are rules against alcohol usage, it is also inevitable that students break these rules. In fact, there are forums on the internet that provide students living on dry campuses advice and tips on how to conceal alcohol at their universities.
The inability to truly control what the students do regarding alcohol is strikingly similar to the inability of municipalities to control citizens’ actions regarding drinking. Through this lens, I believe we are given the perfect opportunity to ask why the university practices such an outdated policy.
What is sometimes promoted does not always accurately represent the reality of the policy and the values of the students. At the end of the day, if a student is drinking at the legal age and responsibly, shouldn’t they have the opportunity to do so in the safety of their own dorm?
Joseph Paschall is a junior majoring in history. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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