Does Drinking Age Matter? 130 college presidents discuss the merits of 18

by Julia Ernst

A nationwide movement has begun among college and university presidents to promote discussion of lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18.
John McCardell, the former president of Middlebury College, started the Amethyst Initiative, named for a Greek gemstone that is meant to ward off intoxication. Supporters argue that the current legal age keeps drinking hidden and does not eliminate binge drinking.
“We call upon our elected officials: to support an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21-year-old drinking age,” says a statement on the Initiative’s Web site. “[We want] to consider whether the 10 percent highway fund ‘incentive’ encourages or inhibits that debate; to invite new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol.”
So far, presidents of 130 colleges and universities have signed the Initiative, out of about 4,000 institutions nationwide. Rider is among the majority that have not joined.
In New Jersey, Stevens Institute of Technology, Drew University and Montclair University have signed on.
In a statement on the university Web site, Montclair president Susan A. Cole explained her decision to sign the Amethyst Initiative.
“I am a signatory of the Amethyst Initiative because I am in favor of a rigorous, data-informed public discussion of the issue of the legal drinking age and its relationship to alcohol consumption among college students and other 18- to 21-year-olds,” said Cole. “Drinking alcohol is illegal for students under the age of 21, and yet, despite the imposition of policies and disciplinary procedures, it is evident that alcohol and alcohol-related injuries, binge drinking and alcohol abuse is a fact of life on colleges campuses across the nation. The current drinking age has not eliminated alcohol abuse; it has driven it underground and out of the reach of counselors who are trained to help students deal with these issues.”
University President Mordechai Rozanski disagrees with this statement.
“From my point of view, I have not seen persuasive evidence that lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18 will deal with the key issue of curtailing binge drinking,” he said. “The key issue for our university and across the country is not what the drinking age is — it’s the culture of binge drinking.”
Rozanski said this atmosphere of binge drinking among college students is the more crucial issue and that the university is taking steps to examine what can be done to change that culture.
“I think that we at Rider are responding to this key issue of best practices and educating our community,” he said.
This includes the formation of The Presidential Task Force on Alcohol, Personal Responsibility and Student Life, which researched and then developed a list of guidelines intended to improve alcohol policies on campus.
“There were 19 recommendations and all of these 19 recommendations have been implemented,” Rozanski said.
These guidelines include the implementation of “AlcoholEDU,” a program for all freshmen on both campuses, the good Samaritan policy, encouraging students to seek medical help for intoxicated friends without fear of penalty and a revised alcohol policy that increases repercussions. Rozanski described six key elements focused on education (see above) and all 19 are on the university Web site.
Two Rider seniors, both 21, had differing opinions on the Amethyst Initiative.
“In my opinion, I think that if you lower the drinking age, they’ll appreciate alcohol more,” senior Tiffany C. said. “When they go to college, they’re going to see alcohol, so why not expose them to it so they stay out of legal trouble? Lowering the drinking age won’t promote binge drinking.”
Fellow senior David Vaughn offered another point of view.
“I don’t think 18 is old enough,” he said. “You don’t necessarily have to be 21, but it depends on the individual, if they can be responsible enough not to endanger anyone else.”
Junior Michael Compton, who is not 21, had his own view on the subject.
“I really have mixed emotions about it,” Compton said. “If you grow up with it, it takes away the thrill and you respect it more, [but] I don’t think that 18-year-olds in high school should be able to drink. There would be 18-year-olds mingling with 15- and 16-year-olds and buying them alcohol. On this campus, I think that lowering the drinking age would be a bad idea because of the things that have happened here.”

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