The Amethyst Initiative

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By Kathie Zipp>Senior>Magazine Journalism>Kent State University

“You can vote, smoke, go to war and be legally cut off from parental or foster-care support at age 18,” said Cally O’Brien, a junior at Santa Clara University. “You can vote for a guy who sends us to war and go to war yourself, but you can’t drink.”

O’Brien isn’t the only one who sees current drinking legislation as inconsistent. In July 2008, John McCardell, president emeritus of Middlebury College, and a group of other college presidents created the Amethyst Initiative, a group looking to start a debate on lowering the drinking age.

The Amethyst Initiative has obtained 135 supporting signatures from college presidents across the country, including Chicago State University, Duke University and Dartmouth College.

Bobby Fong, president of Butler University, has also signed.

“Over the years, colleges have seen an increase in students coming to us with binge-drinking habits already in place,” he said. “Most students don’t begin drinking in college; they began in high school. There must be education about alcohol from childhood through adulthood. We must find better ways to deal with this problem. That’s what the Amethyst discussion is all about.”

President Lester Lefton of Kent State University said he has not signed the petition and would not consider it. But he does personally support lowering the drinking age.

"I’ve never understood why the drinking age is 21," Lefton said. "Clearly, our European counterparts have a more reasoned approach to alcohol consumption amongst their younger citizens."

In Italy and Germany, the drinking age is 16; in England, France and Spain, it’s 18, according to the International Center for Alcohol Policies.
Colleen Corrigan, a senior at Kent State University, studied abroad in Northern Ireland at age 19. She said she spent her evenings going to the bars with her roommates.

“The Irish girls I lived with were younger than me,” she said. “They were absolutely stunned that I was older than them and still couldn’t drink in my own country.”

In the United States, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 raised the lowest age to purchase and publicly possess alcohol from 18 to 21. It’s been 25 years since Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act; the Act was the beginning of today’s drinking age, penalizing any state that set its drinking age lower than 21 by taking 10 percent of the state’s federal highway funding.

But students like Corrigan who have studied abroad wonder why a younger drinking age can work in other countries.

“I think it’s the culture,” she said. “They’ve grown up with it [alcohol] and so it’s not such a novelty when they reach the legal drinking age,” she said.

Fran Reid, a senior at Santa Clara University, is doubtful lowering the drinking age would be effective.

“It would be nice to think that the obsession with drinking would diminish with the lowering of the drinking age,” she said. “But I really don’t think it would have any impact. I think it would just cause a whole cascade of problems.”

But the Amethyst Initiative continues to gain support.

Christopher Volny, a senior at Toledo University, said he’s fully in favor of discussion on the topic.

“Any discussion and reflection is better than blindly maintaining status quo,” he said. “Maybe we’ll learn the drinking age is arbitrary or maybe we’ll learn it is justified at 21. What’s important is that people think about the laws they uphold.”
 

College Magazine Staff

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