Amethyst founder talks drinking age

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November 21, 2008

1:24 AM

Responsibility was the word of choice in Amethyst Initiative Founder John McCardell Jr.’s lecture Thursday night. A small group of the College of William and Mary students attended the event sponsored by the SA and the John Locke society.

“For students in College, whether we like it or not, alcohol is part of the social scene,” said McCardell. “We want to prepare people to be more responsible adults.”

President emeritus and history professor John McCardell Jr. at Middlebury College authored the Amethyst Initiative in July of 2008. The statement does not explicitly call for a lowering of the drinking age, but asks signatories to support an informed discussion of the current drinking age and its consequences.

The SA passed a bill sponsored by Senators Ben Brown, Ross Gillingham and Steve Nelson that urges President Reveley to sign the Initiative, but Reveley has not decided whether he will sign it or not. President Taylor Reveley was unable to attend due to all day meetings with the Board of Visitors.

McCardell began his presentation with the history of the prohibition, drawing comparisons between the clandestine drinking cultures developed in the twenties to alcohol use of today. The former college president pointed out studies which suggest that after the Prohibition went into effect Americans began to drink greater quantities of alcohol with more serious consequences, similar to the drinking culture of modern 18 to 20-year-olds that account for 5,000 deaths a year.

“We are reliving the 1920s in so many ways. It is now called binge drinking,” McCardell said. “The deaths are the tip of the unfortunate iceberg, thousands of assaults, date rapes, and property damages.”

McCardell also pointed out that at the age of eighteen, a person is legally adult and no responsibility other than drinking is withheld.

“I’m leaving telling a veteran who has returned from war that he doesn’t have the maturity to drink a beer,” he said.

The initiative also asks lawmakers to consider if the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 promotes productive discussion. The act instituted a 10 percent cut in federal transportation funds on states where the drinking age was lower than 21. Though States have the power to determine their own drinking age, every state increased their minimum age of alcohol consumption to 21 after president Ronald Reagan signed the Uniform Drinking Age Act of 1984.

McCardell pointed out that only 1,900 of the total alcohol related fatalities occur on the highway, and because of this, he feels that the highway incentive prevents states from taking necessary measures to solve the binge-drinking problem.

“We need to ask where else and we need to ask why we simply can’t pass over those numbers to focus specifically on highways,” McCardell said. “If we remove the 10 percent incentive we will see a flowering of creative thinking [on how to prevent alcohol related deaths.]”

The Federal-Highway Act of 1956 is up for renewal next year.

The presidents of five Virginia Universities have signed the initiative: Hampden-Sydney College, Hollins University, Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Sweet Briar College and Washington and Lee University.

McCardell said that, currently, 134 University Presidents have signed the Amethyst Initiative.

“It is well past time for a serious discussion and debate on the drinking age,” McCardell said. “Presidents sign this initiative because Presidents see themselves and their institutions as responsible in educating their students of how to make responsible choices.”

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