By Ben Kleppinger
Over 120 university presidents across the nation have said they would like to talk about lowering the minimum drinking age.A Web site called the Amethyst Initiative has collected the signatures of at least 128 university presidents on a statement claiming the legal drinking age of 21 has allowed “a culture of dangerous, clandestine ‘binge-drinking'” to develop.
The Amethyst Initiative is a project of an organization called Choose Responsibility. Grace Kronenberg, the assistant to the director of Choose Responsibility, said the organization notified 2,000 university and college presidents in July, asking them to sign on the statement.
The statement, which can be found at amethystinitiative.org, is also critical of a federal law penalizing states that lower the legal drinking age below 21 by cutting 10 percent of the state’s federal highway appropriation.
“The blackmail of that law.has stopped any state from considering a lower drinking age,” Kroenberg said.
Kronenberg said Choose Responsibility doesn’t want to instantly lower the legal drinking age; it simply wants to start an open discussion about what the legal drinking age should be.
“A cultural change is needed to address the problem of heavy drinking,” Kronenberg said. “Our goal remains just bringing this to the nation’s attention.”
Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been one of the biggest opponents of the Amethyst Initiative. Tara McGuire, the state-wide youth coordinator for MADD Kentucky, said large amounts of evidence support MADD’s stance that keeping the legal drinking age at 21, and enforcing it, prevents underage drinking and saves lives.
Rather than lowering the legal drinking age, McGuire said keeping parents involved at the high school and college levels is a good way to end binge drinking.
“Supervision is going down. Parental involvement is going down. And [the students] are going into this high risk college atmosphere,” she said.
McGuire said there needs to be a movement to end the cultural idea of underage drinking as “a harmless rite of passage.”
McGuire also said some states lowered their legal drinking ages in the 1970s, and many of them saw significant increases in alcohol-related driving fatalities and injuries. When they re-raised their legal ages to 21, they saw a drop in drunk driving accidents, McGuire said.
According to the Web site why21.org, which is run by MADD, 29 states lowered their legal drinking age in the early 1970s. By 1983, 16 of those states had raised their legal drinking age back up to 21.
But Kronenberg said the early 1970s were among the first years the government started collecting data on drunk driving accidents.
Because of “a host of other laws and regulations” put into place around the same time the drinking ages were re-raised to 21, Kronenberg said it was impossible to tell if raising the drinking age was the cause of fewer fatalities and injuries.
Sobriety checkpoints, seatbelt laws and zero tolerance policies are some other possible reasons for the drop in accidents, Kronenberg said.
Kronenberg also said that even if the drinking age of 21 was right for the 1970s, that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for today.
“This is a different society now,” she said. “It’s not 1984 now. We’re much more aware of the risks of drunk driving.”
McGuire said besides drunk driving, underage drinking has other negative effects. Ninety-five percent of violent crimes on university campuses are alcohol-related, she said, as are 90 percent of date rape cases.
“Please show us one study.that shows us that 21 does not save lives,” McGuire said. “Right now we don’t have one.”
Kronenberg said Choose Responsibility wants more research to be conducted investigating the actual effects of the 21 drinking age.
Murray State president Randy Dunn is the only university president in Kentucky who has signed on to the Amethyst Initiative. The Progress attempted to contact Dunn multiple times, but he could not be reached for comment.
McGuire said it sounded to her like “the president of Murray is willing to consider breaking the federal and state law to allow drinking on his campus.”
Eastern president Doug Whitlock said he is not opposed to a discussion about the legal drinking age, but would need to see more evidence before joining something like the Amethyst Initiative.
“Their motives are honorable,” Whitlock said. “I’m uncertain whether their logic is solid.