Since its founding last year, the Amethyst Initiative, a campaign to initiate a public debate about the merits of a 21 year old drinking age, has been growing every day. The Initiative, started by John McCardell, President Emeritus of Middlebury College, now boasts the support of the Presidents and Chancellors of a whopping 135 colleges and universities across the country.
But where do local schools stand on the initiative’s goal of lowering the drinking age?
The Amethyst Initiative bases their goal of rethinking the drinking age on the fact that the law, as it currently exists, is not working. In fact, they claim it has been counterproductive, stating, “A culture of dangerous, clandestine ‘binge-drinking’—often conducted off-campus—has developed.” Anyone who has been to a college campus can certainly agree with that. While 21 year olds are able to go to bars and drink as little, and as slowly, as they choose, the majority of college students don’t have that luxury. Instead, 18-20 years olds (read- Freshman, Sophomores, and Juniors) are forced to drink on the sly, usually at a far more rapid (and dangerous) pace than their 21 year old counterparts.
As for D.C. schools, there does not appear to be any consensus. The entire University of Maryland system, which includes UMD- College Park, has signed on to the Initiative’s petition. George Washington University, through new President Steven Knapp, appears to be hedging, at least for now. In the GW Hatchet, Knapp explains, “I would like to have a fuller study and discussion with my staff before deciding if this is the best way to approach the issue of underage alcohol consumption.” However, he does add, “A lower drinking age would mean more traffic fatalities and, frankly, a rise in the overall consumption of alcohol.”
Other area schools are more blatant in their disagreement with the Initiative. Howard University is a dry campus, and does not support the Amethyst Initiative. American University will not be signing- school President Neil Kerwin questions, to the American University Eagle, whether lowering the drinking age will “deter the epidemic of destructive behavior prompted by alcohol abuse that we’ve seen on our own campus.” Georgetown will not be signing on, either, citing the University’s focus on health and safety concerns. Curiously, Georgetown President John DeGioia adds, to the Georgetown Hoya,“We’re a nation at war, we’re having some real difficulties with our economy. There are just a range of issues on which I could offer my perspective and my engagement, and I just feel that right now my priorities have to be placed elsewhere.” Maybe we can wish that one day, President DeGioia can find a couple of minutes to involve himself in an issue that directly affects the safety of his students.
Despite the various Universities’ skepticism, the sad fact remains- binge drinking is a significant and growing problem on college campuses. And being a dry campus, though maybe ideal, does not absolve any school from its responsibility in stemming the tide of the binge drinking epidemic that has enveloped college life. In fact, the two ideas- being a dry campus and advocating a public discourse on the drinking age- are not mutually exclusive. There is no conflict in discussing a drinking age law and still prohibiting alcohol on campus. Finally, this is far too important an issue for schools to be so cautious. George Washington University’s non-answer answer is frustrating, and as a current student of the school, I think I deserve better. Georgetown’s health and safety concerns should be applauded, but as the goal of the initiative is to curb the effects of binge drinking, there’s no reason not to engage the idea.