The issue of underage drinking is prevalent on every campus, but it is heard clearly on our campus, where a year and a half ago 18-year-old Gary DeVercelley Jr. died of alcohol poisoning after a fraternity party. After his death, Rider revamped its alcohol policy, hoping to better protect the students. For example, the good Samaritan clause encourages students to tell Public Safety about a fellow student who has been drinking illegally if he or she needs medical attention, without fear of penalty.
But picture a campus where students don’t need to fear getting in trouble for drinking. Instead, picture a campus where students 18 and older are allowed to drink safely, according to law. This is the idea of 130 college presidents nationwide, who have signed the Amethyst Initiative. This movement is working toward lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18 in order to limit secretive, dangerous binge drinking that these colleges know goes on behind closed doors, despite all the rules that have been put in place to prevent it.
Those who joined the initiative aren’t working right now for the law to be changed, but instead they are working toward having a debate about how best to address the problems of underage drinking on campus.
However, the movement is getting a lot of opposition. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) feels that the Amethyst Initiative is taking a difficult issue and trying to find an easy way out. They also feel that lowering the drinking age will open up even more problems for high schools, as well as raise the number of drunken-driving fatalities, which the group has worked so hard to lower.
Although the Amethyst Initiative is receiving outside criticism, those schools that have signed on are hearing it from other colleges as well. For example, the president of The College of New Jersey, R. Barbara Gitenstein, feels that lowering the drinking age would do nothing to help unsafe alcohol consumption. Instead, she wants to work towards getting help for those students with abusive alcoholic tendencies.
Underage drinking is obviously an issue on many campuses all over the U.S., but for Rider, it really hits home. Although the alcohol policies were retooled last year, there is still a substantial amount of secretive underage drinking that goes on — students have just gotten better at hiding it. Colleges and universities across the country have noticed this, but have been unable to do much about it, which made them want to take another look at the law.
In the past there have been many changes to the legal drinking age. In 1984, Congress voted to deny federal funding to states with a drinking age under 21. This caused states with lower drinking ages to adopt to the older age. If students are allowed to vote and join the armed forces, then they should also be allowed to have a beer after class to relax. Students who can balance a full course load and work (sometimes two or three jobs) have already proven that they are responsible enough to drink — granted they don’t have to sneak around to do it.
Rider is trying to be a leader in eliminating unsafe drinking, but has not yet joined the movement. However, this school and the tragedies that happened here are just examples at the crux of a national issue that needs a fresh evaluation.
Written By Opinion Editor, Nadine Tester