Shearer Declines to Sign Amethyst Initiative
September 12, 2008 1 Comment
By Melissa True
The widely publicized Amethyst Initiative, a Web-based effort promoting open discussion about lowering the legal drinking age from 21 to 18, has received the signatures of 129 college presidents across the country. However, Transylvania President Charles Shearer is not among them.
“I didn’t sign because I was not sure I had enough evidence to support lowering the drinking age,” said Dr. Shearer, who was extended an invitation to sign the initiative. “There was a lack of sufficient data to convince me that I should take a stand.”
“The presidents (who signed the letter) have certainly stimulated discussion. With their goal though, I may not agree,” he added.
Since he declined to sign the initiative, Shearer said that he received a letter from the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving thanking him for not signing the letter. MADD has been one of the biggest opponents of the Amethyst Initiative.
The Amethyst Initiative is a project of the nonprofit organization Choose Responsibility founded by the former president emeritus of Middlebury College, John McCardell. The Web site’s statement also calls into question the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, passed in 1984, which imposed a penalty of 10 percent of a state’s federal highway appropriation for setting a drinking age below 21.
The legal drinking age in the United States has been a controversial topic since its instatement and marks the age of 21 as a gateway year that grants more freedoms and more responsibilities.
“I think that if they can send you to war at 18, then you should be allowed to drink,” said Transy sophomore Maegan Pirtle.
“I think lowering the drinking age is not going to make a difference; people already drink while they are underage, so what would it matter,” said junior Ashley Lewars.
Dean of Students Michael K. Vetter had a different take on the issue. “I recognize a huge concern for what I call the pre-party syndrome, where small groups are consuming large amounts of alcohol before an event. They do this because they may be going to an off-campus party and because they are underage or else there is not much alcohol at the event, they will drink beforehand. That is an outcome of the 21-year-old drinking age. At the same time, will lowering the drinking age really change that?”
Transy is considered a wet campus, allowing students over the age of 21 to drink in their rooms under specific conditions. According to Dean Vetter, a change in the legal drinking age might cause other schools to consider employing similar policy.
“I would assume that if the age was lowered there would be a push for more colleges to allow alcohol on campus,” he said. “I think our students take care of each other pretty well, in lots of ways, including these social events where there is alcohol.”
One of the Amethyst Initiative’s claims is that the higher legal drinking age may contribute to the occurrence of binge drinking.
Dr. Margaret Upchurch, professor of Psychology and program director of the Psychology Department, said of the Amethyst Initiative, “a lot of their evidence seems to be anecdotal.” She said she believes beginning to drink earlier may increase the risk of addiction later.
“It bothers me that the college presidents are trying to solve something nationally rather than looking inwardly,” said Dr. Upchurch. “I keep hearing the forbidden fruit argument. I say to that – show me the evidence.”
One of the issues surrounding the topic, and one that has been publicly addressed by MADD, is how a change in the drinking age could potentially increase drunk driving.
Director of Public Safety Chief Richard Cook said, “We need to stay at 21. If you lower the drinking age to 18, it gives us three more years of someone being able to drink excessively and drive. If you’re underage, that may be a deterrent from, not necessarily drinking, but maybe getting behind the wheel if it stays at 21. Hopefully people will think twice before drinking to begin with but mostly getting in the car under the influence.”
According to Director of Residence Life Robert Brown, his department handled 85 judicial cases or incidents with students, 47 of which were alcohol related.
“When opening up that kind of environment, my concern would be that in reality it would be putting students at a greater risk,” Brown said.
While the Amethyst Initiative is an outlet for college and university presidents to stimulate discussion, a change in the drinking age would have an effect beyond the realm of academia.
“There is a lot of support for college students while they’re here, but you also have to think about whether it is a responsible move for those who are not in college,” said Brown.