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Monday, August 18, 2021

Is it an indicator of how far back in my personal rear-view mirror the drinking-age debate is that I’m not at all convinced of the merits behind the Amethyst Initiative, an organization advocating a switch back to 18-year-old imbibing and founded by — improbably enough — college presidents?

“This is a law that is routinely evaded,” said John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College in Vermont who started the organization. “It is a law that the people at whom it is directed believe is unjust and unfair and discriminatory.”

Other prominent schools in the group include Syracuse, Tufts, Colgate, Kenyon and Morehouse.

Not that all school administrators are onboard:

McCardell cites the work of Alexander Wagenaar, a University of Florida epidemiologist and expert on how changes in the drinking age affect safety. But Wagenaar himself sides with MADD in the debate.

The college presidents “see a problem of drinking on college campuses, and they don’t want to deal with it,” Wagenaar said in a telephone interview. “It’s really unfortunate, but the science is very clear.”

Another scholar who has extensively researched college binge-drinking also criticized the presidents’ initiative.

“I understand why colleges are doing it, because it splits their students, and they like to treat them all alike rather than having to card some of them. It’s a nuisance to them,” said Henry Wechsler of the Harvard School of Public Health.

But, “I wish these college presidents sat around and tried to work out ways to deal with the problem on their campus rather than try to eliminate the problem by defining it out of existence,” he said.

And in fact, my Spidey-cynic tells me that the college presidents pushing the “debate” are engaging in subtle marketing for the much-sought-after incoming students: When word gets out that they’re pushing for a lower drinking age, I’m sure it’ll carry weight in many a final enrollment decision. To wit:

“Yeah dude, Tufts was just my back-up safety school, but when I heard that their prez signed a petition to change the drinking law to 18, I moved them to the top of the list! Party!”

Gotta keep those matriculation numbers up, y’know.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 08/18/2008 11:39:50 PM
Category: College Years, Society
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4 Feedbacks »
  1. No age limit, less binging. No need to cram it in, no cool factor, etc.

    Comment by David — 08/19/2008 @ 12:12:53 AM

  2. The binging argument never held up for me. You don’t have to be underaged and in a restrictive environment to over-indulge — I know 40-somethings who can’t control themselves.

    I’m sure there’s research that supports whatever you want to accept. My own college days offered both versions: My freshman year was on a campus with lax enforcement of underaged drinking, then an incoming new dean enforced a crackdown for the subsequent 3 years. No sudden uptick in binge drinking.

    Comment by CT — 08/19/2008 @ 09:59:59 AM

  3. I’m being more conceptual, maybe leaning on my sociology studies ;)

    The people on campus were still under the same laws, still lived under the same age restrictions, lax or not.

    It’s like someone who grew up with really, really strict parents - they go to school, can do what they want and suddenly go wild. We’ve all seen that case study.

    But live in a place where there’s no “omg you’re not allowed to drink yet!” and there’s few who base everything they want to do around doing something taboo. (Almost) anything you’re not supposed to do becomes cool, especially to the younger set.

    Comment by David — 08/19/2008 @ 01:30:40 PM

  4. One thing: The argument against going back to 18, by MADD and others, relies largely on the drunk-driving numbers. That’s pretty limiting — we’re talking about college campuses, where a good chunk of the population doesn’t drive.

    Comment by CT — 08/20/2008 @ 11:03:34 AM

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