There’s No “Us” in Amethyst

Published: October 2, 2008

Heavy drinking has long been associated with college students. Films such as “Animal House” and “Old School” have popularized the idea that college is all about leaving your parents behind for a four-year party with an endless supply of booze. While the films may not always reflect reality, binge drinking among underage students remains common on college campuses across America. Many have been protesting the drinking age of 21 for years, including many college presidents. Some of these presidents have drafted and signed a petition called the Amethyst Initiative, which expresses their desire to “rethink the drinking age.”

While, at first glance, the Initiative seems to be a formal call to lower the drinking age across the nation, the purpose of the Initiative is not very clear. As Casey Feldman found in her article “Amethyst Initiative Questions 21-year-old Drinking Age,” some think of the Initiative as a formal call for discussion on the issue. The Initiative is affiliated with a program called Choose Responsibility, which encourages volunteers to spread the word about the discussion but offers no long-term goals and seems to offer no channel for contributions from students. Regardless of the ultimate goal, the Initiative vows to further this discussion without input from the very people it will directly effect.

“Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer,” states the Initiative’s Web site. Not only are we “not mature enough to have a beer,” it seems college students also lack the maturity to participate in a national, open discourse on the issue. The Amethyst Initiative does not make any effort to address why college students seem to drink so much, and certainly makes no effort to find out.

The Initiative blames the drinking age for the “clandestine” binge drinking that is popular on college campuses. But it is unlikely that this is the only reason for the dangerous habits some students pick up in college.

There is nothing wrong with an open discourse on this important issue, but it is imperative to include the people this decision will most impact. College students are the ones who most directly witness the dangers of binge drinking, from beginning to blackout. Students are the ones who watch their friends decide to have a drink, decide to have too many and then suffer the consequences. Many of those students choose to complete that cycle again and again. So what is it that causes these habits to continue? If the supporters of the Amethyst Initiative choose to include students in their discussion, they may have a chance to find out.