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The Amethyst Initiative, launched by the non-profit organization Choose Responsibility, headed by my predecessor John McCardell, is attracting much publicity, both positive and critical. This publicity is good and is why I signed on to this initiative.

There is a need for a wider discussion of the problem of alcohol use on our campuses. The Amethyst Initiative is not about lowering the drinking age to 18, as some believe; that is Choose Responsibility’s cause. The 18-year drinking age is not even mentioned in the Amethyst petition, signed by more than 120 college and university presidents. Most presidents who signed the petition may believe an 18-year-old drinking age should be part of the solution to the current problems they see on their campuses, but many, including myself, signed because it was a good way to bring much-needed attention and debate to the broader issue—abusive drinking and its consequences among the under-21-year-old cohort. Through this debate many hope there can come new ideas on how best to address the alcohol issue on our campuses.

I have stated before, most recently in my 2008 baccalaureate address—and will carry this message throughout the coming academic year to students, faculty, and staff—that the issue is more about how one drinks and conducts oneself than about a particular legal age for consuming alcohol. Though I agree that the higher drinking age has had unintended consequences on college campuses, including more binge drinking behind closed doors because alcohol is less available in public social venues, I feel much more strongly that abusive drinking and all that comes with it would be minimized significantly if friends and peers just held one another to a higher standard of behavior, no matter the legal age for consumption.

I am interested to hear your views on this important topic, including ideas on how to deal best with it on our campus.

See Dickinson College President William Durden’s recent piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education on this initiative. (Note: Subscription or Web pass required.)

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