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Whittier College prez wants to lower legal drinking age

How_young_is_too_young Sharon D. Herzberger, the president of Whittier College, is one of 100 college leaders backing the Amethyst Initiative, launched last month to persuade lawmakers to lower the drinking age in the U.S. from 21 to 18.

Not only does the current law fail to protect young people from alcohol abuse, it creates a culture that encourages it, the group's mission statement says. Schools like Tufts, Smith, Dartmouth and Duke are among the high-profile signatories. Though the effort is barely a month old, opposition is already fierce, the Daily Breeze reports.

"This is a law that is routinely evaded," said John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College in Vermont who started the organization. "It is a law that the people at whom it is directed believe is unjust and unfair and discriminatory."

Other prominent schools in the group include Syracuse, Tufts, Colgate, Kenyon and Morehouse.   

But even before the presidents begin the public phase of their efforts, which may include publishing newspaper ads in the coming weeks, they are already facing sharp criticism.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving says lowering the drinking age would lead to more fatal car crashes. It accuses the presidents of misrepresenting science and looking for an easy way out of an inconvenient problem. MADD officials are even urging parents to think carefully about the safety of colleges whose presidents have signed on.

Look for the issue to make news as the group's ads hit print.

-- Veronique de Turenne

Comments () | Archives (27)

I'll take a few binge drinking deaths over the thousands more that will come from 18 yr olds drunk driving.

The U.S. is one of only a few countries that still have the 21 years old to drink laws. You can go to a foreign country and drink but you can't do it at home. You can serve your country, even die for your country at 18 but you can't have an alcoholic beverage when you come home.You can vote for the people who make the laws that rule your world, but you can't drink a toast to them. 18 year olds are no more irresponsible than 21 year olds. Who made up this stuff anyway? I reme,ber when 18 year olds were not allowed to vote either. That sure changed when the poiticians found out that they could get more votes if 18 y/o's could vote. So most of our laws come from the conveniences it affords politicians, not what would be best for the country.

It's about time the intelligentsia stood up and made a statement about a failed policy that has doubtlessly contributed to thousands and thousands of deaths. The United States has by far the worst problems in the world with alcohol. The number or drunk driving deaths is staggering when compared with other nations. It's time that we as a nation recognize that this failed alcohol policy is the dominant factor in why our youth (and adults) are so irresponsible when it comes to alcohol. A new policy is needed where children aren't learning about alcohol from other children in unsupervised and dangerous settings. Common sense dictates that this is a recipe for the disaster that has become the US alcohol policy. Instead, a policy is needed that encourages parents and adults to teach children about responsible alcohol use in responsible supervised settings. It is quite encouraging that the leaders of Americas top universities have the courage to stand up and say what we all know - the current alcohol policy has encouraged irresponsibility and been a complete failure and we need a new approach if we are serious about protecting the health and wellfare of our youth.

I remember when the drinking age was 19. I would go to the bars in an urban area and everything was perfectly civilized; no problems. Then came the proposal to return the drinking age to 21, and I heard nothing from 19 and 20 year olds. Even now, I hear nothing from them. If they don't care, why should I?

Though to be fair, underage kids drink all the time. The question is, do you want them drinking in a controlled environment, or do you want them in a teenage run free for all?

I think one of the reason 19 and 20 year olds aren't making their voices heard, is that the law hasn't really affected them; if they want to party, they party, the law is irrelevant. So, now the underlying question is, how do you want them partying?

Prohibition v. Education
I think this is genius. It has become apparent repeatedly throughout history that governments CANNOT enforce regulation of social behaviors without wasting an unimaginable amount of resources. How's that abstinence-only sex education going? Oh right, people still have sex. How about the war on drugs? Yup, lots of people do drugs. Underage drinking? Same thing. It's like the people who think omitting homosexuality from sex education will make fewer gay people or legislators who say drinking alcohol is bad think that everyone will stop drinking. People do what they will. If it is illegal, they will do it illegally and the sheer number of perpetrators is enough for most to hide behind. There will always be people who abuse mind-altering substances--which is what alcohol is: a drug--but those people need medical attention, not jail. Why is it so hard for the population of this country to see that allowing these practices to occur in legal, organized, government regulated (and taxable!) situations is safer and smarter than driving them to hide these behaviors where there's no big brother to look after them? Legislation should be to protect people and their rights, not assume postures of righteousness for public appeal. Please, do what's right this time. If there is opposition, hear it, discuss it and sell your case as the most reasonable answer.

i think they should also lower the participation age on this message board to 10. i mean 10 year olds can read...but they can't write?

Why not raise the legal drinking age to 70? Most of the bars and liquor stores in the United States would go out of business, and it would be almost impossible for underage drinkers to use a phony ID.

20-year-old Suzy presents her phony ID and the bartender says "If your name is really "Grandma Moses," how do you have such beautiful titties?"

Shut up! This is a "serious" subject!

When ANY law is widely ignored SOME alternative should be considered.

The 21 law is widely ignored and should be reconsidered.

100 years ago they were pushing Prohibition.

Today college presidents, whose main job is often to gain funds for their colleges,
have fallen in line for the beer money they are going to get, by lowering the
drinking age to 18.
In 100 years will private k-12 schools be trying to follow the same path to riches?

You get the same hollow feeling in your gut from hearing that your 18 year-old
classmate died in an alcohol-related car wreck, as you do when your 21 year-old classmate dies in a car wreck.

A lot of those 18 year-old's will not go to college, but their deaths will help pay for the life styles of those college presidents.

Governors Highway Assoc : "The Law Saves Lives"...

There is an expert debate on this topic at:


The intelligent thing to do would be to abolish a drinking age law altogether. It's that way in Europe and they don't have anywhere near the same problems we do with alcohol because children are taught at a young age how to handle it. When you make it illegal until 21, then the kids go beserk trying to get it and go overboard.

I grew in Germany where the law permits bars serving low alcoholic beverages to teenagers at 16 and everything at 18. At home everything that does not harm the child is allowed. The idea is about personal responsibility. Guess what, it works! Binge drinking is virtually a non-issue there. I have had my share of high school and college parties and we had beer and other stuff. Except for a couple underachievers who regarded being drunk as cool, folks had their beer or two, had a designated driver or used public transportation.

If you grow up in a world where drinking socially is nothing special, you get drunk once or twice when relatively young (typically before you get your drivers license at 18), learn you lesson and move on to obey your limits. That was how I and all of my friends did it.

On the other hand, if alcohol is something special that you can only get at select few times as opposed to something that is readily there, you will abuse it. To draw an analogy, think about that favorite meal you only get at that restaurant 100 miles away. You are more likely to overeat once you make your way up there, than say at your local favorite fast-food joint (still good, but always there).

Binge drinking is not a drinking age problem. It's cultural and maybe physiological. Northern European cultures and their descendants are into binging on alcohol, because it's a cultural habit and they have a taste for alcohol, particularly beer (Britain, Scandinavia, Germany, and therefore the U.S., Australia). They don't have this problem in Latin or Asian countries (except Mongolia, where culturally they have been into drinking since before Genghis Khan). In Italy, soldiers get a half liter of wine per day out in the field, and they don't abuse alcohol, unlike their American allies, who aren't allowed to have alcohol. In Italy, there's no drinking age at all! Getting rid of the age restriction may possibly make alcohol less a taboo and cool adult thing, but unfortunately the only way to do away with abuse at any age is to change the culture and provide alternatives to alcohol that are equally attractive. At Stanford, we called them "EANABs": equally attractive non-alcoholic beverages. We should also do away with fraternities, which are a nasty English inheritance.

The best part of this is that we in the alcohol business are going to make so much more money.
Up until now we can only try and make money off the older students. Which is tough because they are a little more mature and get the whole reason we in the alcohol business want them to be drunk all the time.
But soon we will be making even more money off the way more immature 18 and 19 year old college student who don't get it, and think being drunk all the time is cool.
So thank you very much mr. politician. You guess are swell and we in the alcohol business are very thankful.

I'm not sure what all this proposed change would do. Kids between 18-21 will find a way to drink, regardless of the law. I remember those days (and nights).


Absolutely. They're drinking at 18 anyhow- and being killed in battle- they can marry, vote, enter contracts- everything else at 18- it is unconstitutional, under equal protection, for the federal government to have blackmailed states (with threat of withholding highway funds) dictating a higher than reasonable drinking age. The huge fines, loss of license penalties, etc. imposed over the past decade or so are plenty to deter anybody that cares from drunk driving. Reasoning that drinking must be limited to stop drunk driving would mean that 25 year olds, or for that matter, nobody should drink. Crazy. It's way past time to fix this.

Nationwide Insurance released a survey today containing some of the most recent public opinion on the topic. This Nationwide Insurance Survey on Underage Drinking was done in April 2008 by Opinion Research Corporation, an independent third party.

Among the key findings:
Americans continue to overwhelmingly reject an ongoing push to lower the legal drinking age from 21 to 18.
72 percent of adults think lowering the drinking age will make alcohol more accessible to kids.
Nearly half believe it would increase binge drinking among teens.
More than half even say they are less likely to vote for a state representative who supports lowering the legal limit.

For other key findings: http://www.nationwide.com/newsroom/stop-underage-drinking.jsp

Underage drinking at colleges is out of control. Look at this video: http://collegeclicktv.com/?v=16007. That's literally one of hundreds of drunk college kids on that site. We might as well make it legal.

If they lower the age limit, the consequences for drunk driving should be tougher. They are tougher about this in Europe. I would support a 1 DUI/DWI = license revoked for a year policy and a 3 DUI/DWI = 1 felony policy.

I personally have no legal qualms about dropping the legal drinking age to 18, but something bothers me when people say "Well you can go die for your country and kill people at 18, so why can't you drink?" To this I think people should consider:

Yes, while we do allow Military Service at 18, it's not like we throw people in and say, here's a gun, go kill stuff. The military trains and drills individuals for a significant amount of time (hopefully to instill what's right and wrong).

Yes, we do allow people to drive at the age of 16, but there's that whole drivers education + drivers training + probation period (usually lasting 6 or more months combined).

Yes, we allow people to vote at 18, though I think there should be a provision that you have to have been 18 for an entire year prior to an election year since I don't believe a fresh 18 year old will have enough relevant information to make an informed vote.

Purchasing and drinking alcohol is just something someone can do without any training or education simply by turning of age. If you're going to lower the drinking age to 18, make people take an alcohol education class (like at least once a week for 3-4 months) which gives out a license upon completion to purchase and consume alcohol.

Most of the 21 year old laws support comes from mothers against drunk driving which is actually a veiled temperance league.

Drinking age should be lowered to 18. Your an adult at 18 and should be held responsible for all your actions. Some people like to say life is not fair and people under 21 should not be allowed to drink. Well what wrong with making the law fair!!! We are punishing all people under 21 because of stupid young people who can drink responsibly? Where is the due process and when did we decide that all Americans under 21 were guilty of being irresponsible beer drinkers. The drinking age all over the world is mostly 18 and the country that prides itself on its freedoms has a drinking age of 21? This is AGE DISCRIMINATION!!!!!

Colleges do not want to be responsible for enforcing the law and do not want to be extra liable for under age drinkers overdosing/dying from alcohol.

Colleges do not want the lawsuits.

Binge drinking has very little to do with age limits and everything to do with the middle class culture of over-consumption. American parents start with all-you-can-eat pizza parties for toddlers and eventually over-indulge them with cars, credit cards and a campus condo. Binge drinking is nothing more than the adolescent version of adult consumption and spending spending behavior. Parents set the values and standards, not college professors!

The sensible solution would be to lower the drinking age and take away the cars (licenses), credit cards and college vacations.

Chester, your statement that "the US has by far the worst alcohol problems in the world" is completely false. Please do a little research before making up "facts" in order to support your opinion.

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