Amethyst Initiative Debate

People seem to have strong feelings around the Amethyst Initiative. Personally, I’m for it. Eighteen year olds can vote and enlist in the military, but they can’t have a beer before they are shipped off to Iraq or champagne when the new president is elected?

A lot of people ages 18-20 drink because it’s illegal and there’s a certain rebellious, exotic edge to it. Legalizing it would take some of the excitement out of it

The USA is one of only 4 countries in the world with a drinking age as high as 21.

I have witnessed a great deal of binge drinking and other related shenanigans from the under 21 crowd.

Admittedly, 18 feels a little young to be able to go to a liquor store and pick out whatever you want. But the under 21 crowd that wants to drink always seem to be able to get its hands on alcohol in some clandestine manner.

I’ll leave the dispassionate debate to the college presidents, lawmakers, and other experts, but I say, why not lower the age? If parents do their jobs during the first 17 years, they won’t have to worry as much when kids reach majority.

Teach them as kids how dumb a cigarette habit is, and they probably won’t develop one. Drinking isn’t so different from a behavioral stand point. There will still be some excited experimentation, just like when you first get a driver license. You can’t wait to try it, if for no other reason that the fact that you can. But if we want young people to act like adults, we need to treat them as such, and this is a step in that direction.


4 responses to “Amethyst Initiative Debate

  1. I keep seeing all this about colleges, but what about the people who turn 18 at the beginning of their senior year in high school. We always had speeches given to us before prom and other school functions because the accident/death rate was always higher during these times. I understand that people are going to find ways to get alcohol and admittingly as a teenager I did too, but I feel that giving 18 year olds the right to buy alcohol is not the right decision.

  2. We lived in Paris twice, when my husband, a professor of English had Visiting Fulbright fellowships. The first time we had our 17 year old son with us. He attended Lycee Louis LeGrand, the premier high school in Paris–where Moliere and many other famous people attended. It was obvious during that semester that he would just as likely hang out at a coffee shop–drinking coffee as he might have a glass of wine. There was no binge drinking. The French youth learn at a very young age to integrate alcholo into their life in moderation.

    On the other hand, one day we were having lunch at a cafeteria on the top floor of a Paris department store-I think it was Galleries Lafyette. In front of me in the line were two American teenagers, obviously with a group of some kind. They each had a glass of wine on their tray. The one turned to the other and said “Quick, drink it all down before he sees us.” That, I think sums up our problem. The forbidden fruit of alcohol to 18-21 year olds encourages them to “drink it down” in secret.

    My brother entered the Navy as a medical corpsmen during the Vietnam War– at the age of 19. He saw much bloodshed and death. Yet, upon his return to the U.S. (forever emotionally bruised by the experience, I might add), he was not legally allowed to have a beer.

    We need a cultural shift that acknowledges that beer, wine and even liquor, in moderation, can be enjoyable. While abuse will always be a problem–as a professor at a campus of 48,000 students, I know well that the prohibition until 21 is not working.

  3. As a parent of two sons recently graduated from Bowdoin, I am personally indifferent to your initiative, announced in the national press today, which calls for a ‘national debate’ over reducing the drinking age to 18.

    As a lawyer who is deeply concerned about the hundreds of students who have died or been raped as the direct result of drinking on college campuses over the past few years, your initiative is very calculating and even a little shameful.

    Certainly one way to avoid the onslaught of liability recently visited on deserving colleges as the resultof such deaths and rapes is to put the law on your side, right? If this is what your initiative is about, I find it incredibly callous and phony, not to mention immoral.

    Simply put, the law is changing around the country as we speak as regards the duty of colleges, both under common law and under Federal and State statutes, to take effective and continuous steps to provide an educational environment which is safe from the ravages of criminal behavior (in the form of rape) or death (in the form of intoxication or accident), all directly related to drinking in dorms or fraternities. Your signatories know that they are no longer safe in simply producing a nice sounding policy, holding a few information sessions or even declaring their campuses “alcohol free”. Current trends show that colleges are being held accountable, as they should, under Title IX and under tort and contract theory, to effectively preserve the bargain they create with parents and incoming students – that is, the creation and maintenance of a safe campus.

    Sophomoric indifference and casual neglect by college administrators and ’security’ personal to blatant, persistent and destructive violation of campus drinking policies regrettably remain the norm, not the aberration in the nation. It has taken hundreds of deaths and rapes, as noted, and concerned parents and advocates to expose this and hold parties accountable.

    Thus, national fraternities and their local chapters are now routinely sued for negligence and failure to supervise and enforce their own standards regarding drinking. Why? Because they have been found accountable in several courts for the deaths of their pledges and members. People had to die on fraternity floors before people with the ability and resources to change this behavior began to notice.

    Similarly, deans and other administrators are currently the direct targets of suit when women are raped or students drink themselves to death. The law is beginning to recognize that the ability to prevent harm on college campuses resulting from drinking is real – several prudent institutions, with the help of consultants, students, parents, fraternities and alumni have stepped up to the plate and taken effective and continuous steps to prevent harm. As more of these colleges ‘do the right thing’, those who don’t will suffer from the failure to perform their duties to prevent such harm. As the standards for care change, and they are changing rapidly in courts, colleges which ignore their duty and ability to prevent deaths and rape associated with drinking will suffer and possibly even close.

    From my simple perspective, whether 18 is the right age for drinking on a farm in Michigan is not even remotely within the same realm of discourse as whether 18 year old freshman should be drinking in dormitories in Middlebury. All of your signatories know well that an 18 year old, in terms of judgment and overall behavior, is far more susceptible to engaging in drinking abuse than a 22 year old senior. If this is not the case, why do hundreds of colleges take special precautions regarding the behavior of freshman?

    In spite of this, you wish to ‘have a national dialogue’ about allowing these Freshman to drink, legally, in your dormitories. This is a thinly veiled attempt, in my view, to either shield yourselves from the changes in the law mentioned above or to simply excuse the current profound lethargy among college administrators vis a vis existing alcohol policies.

    Instead of embracing a transparent ‘dialogue’, why don’t you all sign on to a national uniform standard of effective protection of students from death and rape? For example, why haven’t you all come up with a uniform policy for adoption by all colleges which is Title IX compliant AND which is matched by a follow on national program of monitoring, grading and reporting as to effectiveness? I think I know why – it is cheaper and easier to ignore that which is creeping up on you.

    I tell you that long before the law is changed, college after college will be justly accused and found responsible for the plague of drinking-related deaths and rapes on campuses. In your own best interests, you should abandon this ‘dialogue’ and instead take immediate, collective and effective action to prevent alcohol-related tragedies.

    I am certainly cynical enough to know that none of you wish to be the guinea pig, that is, to tell all those affluent applicants that they won’t be able to drink. For example, what NESCAC school could recruit in hockey, football or lacrosse if it got out that the recruiting coach required the applicant to acknowledge and sign an alcohol policy? Oh, the humanity! However, in the long run for everyone, especially those 16-18 year olds who will die or be raped in 2010 on your campuses, it is time you got brave.

  4. Our parenting responsibility has been extended with this new generation. The child is staying connected to the parent through the college experience and longer for both financial and emotional reasons. This tells us, they need protection and guidance, not a permissive alcohol policy. These accidental deaths are preventable. Parents need to know when they drop their student off at school that the school is providing a safe environment. Statistically this age group has a very high accidental death rate. We need to be putting systems into place to improve these statistics not add to them. For more information on parenting college students go to my web site: and download my FREE eBook “Parenting College Students: 27 Winning Strategies for Success”.

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