While university presidents across the country have signed on to a petition questioning the 21-year drinking age, Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia said that he has higher priorities.
The Amethyst Initiative, an effort launched in July by university presidents that calls for elected officials to reconsider the national minimum drinking age, has been signed by presidents from Duke University, the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University and 125 other signatories.
“There are just more important issues of the day for me to be weighing in on at this point in time,” DeGioia said in an interview with THE HOYA on Wednesday. “We’re a nation at war, we’re having some real difficulties with our economy. There are just a range of issues on which I could offer my perspective and my engagement, and I just feel that right now my priorities have to be placed elsewhere.”
Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson said that Georgetown does not intend to join the initiative because of the university’s focus on health and safety concerns.
“Georgetown is not signing the petition .We’ll continue to work at providing a welcoming and safe social environment on campus that respects the law and our students.”
The Amethyst Initiative requests a public reexamination of the 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which requires states to enforce the prohibition of selling alcoholic beverages to those under 21 years old, punishing states not in compliance with a 10 percent decrease in its annual federal highway apportionment. If the law was repealed, it would give states the opportunity to lower or raise the minimum drinking age as they see fit.
Although removing the initiative will not automatically change a state’s drinking age, the Amethyst Initiative hopes that the removal will set the stage for the state legislature to reevaluate the 1984 act.
Opponents of the Amethyst Initiative cite various scientific studies, pointing to findings from the National Institutes of Health that reveal significant decreases in underage binge drinking and the number of deaths resulting from irresponsible drinking after the minimum drinking age was raised to 21 in 1984.
In addition, according to a report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “most studies suggest that higher legal drinking ages reduce alcohol consumption, and over half found that a higher legal drinking age is associated with decreased rates of traffic crashes.”
According to Brandon Busteed, founder and CEO of Outside the Classroom, the developers of AlcoholEdu, an interactive online course required of students enrolling at Georgetown, this discussion is long overdue.
“Everyone discussing this issue now … agrees there is a big problem,” he said. “Everybody is currently concerned about this and wants to change things, [but] I think it would be problematic if this conversation didn’t move beyond the drinking age.”
On the Amethyst Initiative’s Web site, Duke University President Richard H. Brodhead wrote that the current law prevents university and college administrators from addressing the issue of responsible drinking with students.
“This is not a simple question. But the current answer is also not an effective solution to the problem,” he wrote. “I applaud [the Amethyst Initiative] for challenging us to engage the issue more thoughtfully.”
Patrick DePoy (COL ’09), president of Work Hard, Play Hard, a student group created last year to protest Georgetown’s stricter alcohol policy, said he thinks that the idea of reducing the minimum drinking age has its benefits.
“The schools signing this are simply confronting reality and doing their best to avoid treating alcohol as an underground activity, which in most cases leads to binge-drinking behavior,” he said. “I find it extremely reasonable and fair to suggest that 18-year-olds are responsible enough to drink. College-aged students are expected to act like adults and therefore should be treated as such and enjoy the same privileges of adulthood.”
– Hoya Staff Writer Victoria Fosdal contributed to this report.