OP-ED: Amethyst Initiative brings alcohol policy discourse to College

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October 17, 2008

1:06 AM

We have a new opportunity to re-evaluate the College of William and Mary’s alcohol policy with the adoption of the Amethyst Initiative. The initiative, spearheaded by former Middlebury College President John McCardell and co-signed by 130 current college presidents, calls for a renewed debate on the implications of the current national drinking age. Recently, we co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Steven Nelson ’10 to strongly encourage College President Taylor Reveley to sign on.

In doing so, our 27th president would actively involve the College in the current dialogue about the consequences, intended or unintended, of the nation’s drinking age. Additionally, we feel that opening such a debate would raise awareness of the implications of our own school’s alcohol polices. It is clear that we have an unsafe drinking environment at the College. Each year, 10 percent of our peers face judicial sanctions by the College, most for alcohol violations — some of whom face medical issues that stem from over-consumption.

The College has recognized and begun to address the problems created by its current drinking atmosphere. We have implemented a medical amnesty policy for 18 to 20-year-old students who need medical care, recognizing safety is paramount to punishment.

Medical amnesty and other policies promoting public safety are not encouraging negative behavior but are simply addressing an issue that already exists. We encourage Reveley to acknowledge this as a positive, though peripheral, attempt to treat the disease of rampant disobedience of the drinking age. He should extrapolate its implications to acknowledge that only with openness and freedom to debate the issue can we truly address the problem — rather than react to it. The reality of a drinking environment that is unhealthy and nonconducive to either respect for the law or to moderation is why the Amethyst Initiative is so relevant to college campuses nation-wide. Without calling for a specific policy change, it is an attempt to examine the causes of these issues without a presupposed outcome.

The national discussion over root causes is an important one to have, but it also naturally leads to the question of what we can do to further address issues of public safety on campus. The medical amnesty program is a good step, as is the expansion of Steer Clear to two vans.

We are both working with former Alcohol Undersecretary Jed Talvacchia on issues with the current alcohol policy. Paramount to this effort is an analysis of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Task Force report, authored in 2003, of both the implications involved in the policy changes it proposed as well as their implementation.

What we need now is another report mandating changes to the existing policy. It’s been a full five years since the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Task Force has actually sat down and thoroughly debated the implications of the College’s current alcohol policies. We can’t wait any longer.

The issue of fraternity basements and chapter rooms currently existing as public as opposed to private space is already a hotly debated topic. Furthermore, the idea that residence hall blocks with members 21 and older are prohibited from enjoying alcohol responsibly in lounges, forcing them to drink behind closed doors, does not make sense. While our institution is deeply rooted in history and tradition, ignoring the consequences of poorly crafted policy that has clearly failed to increase student safety is not one of them.

We encourage anyone who agrees or disagrees with changing the national drinking age to see John McCardell Wednesday, Oct. 22. The visit, hosted in the Sadler Center’s Tidewater A at 7:30 p.m., is being sponsored by the John Locke Society, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy and Libertarian Students. The importance of a debate that critically analyzes issues affecting all colleges, and specifically ours, can only yield positive results.

Ben Brown is a sophomore and Ross Gillingham is a junior at the College.

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