Whittier College's President Calls for Discussion on Reducing Underage Alcohol Abuse

The Amethyst Initiative is a group of college and university presidents across the United States who believe that "the problem of irresponsible drinking by young people continues despite the minimum legal drinking age of 21, and there is a culture of dangerous binge drinking on many campuses."

Amethyst Initiative presidents promote public discussion about the unintended consequences of current alcohol policies, including the minimum legal drinking age of 21, and invites new ideas on how best to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol use. For more information, visit Amethyst Initiative and Choose Responsibility

There are a number of possible policy changes that might be discussed. They include such things as possibly:

  • issuing drinking learner permits to adults aged 18 or older, similar to driving learner permits;
  • permitting adults serving in the armed forces to consume alcoholic beverages under certain conditions;
  • permitting states to develop their own programs to reduce alcohol abuse without penalizing them for doing so by withholding highway funding;
  • lowering the drinking age to 18, 19 or 20;
  • some combination of the above;
  • considering ideas not yet proposed.

There is much resistance to even discussing possible options for a variety of reasons. Many organizations and professionals have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Some simply don't believe any change is needed. Some believe the questionable theory that drinking in moderation harms developing brains, a notion disproven by the experience of Jews, Italians, Greeks, Portuguese, French, and others around the world. Some doubt the maturity of young adults. Some don't think we can improve what we're already doing. A surprisingly large number favor the de facto prohibition of alcohol as a way to prevent alcohol-related problems. And the list goes on.

Therefore, it's a brave person who publicly calls for discussions about how we might reduce alcohol abuse among young people. However, a large number of the presidents of some of our leading colleges and universities have courageously taken such a stand by signing the Amethyst Initiative to do exactly that.

"We can continue shutting our eyes to the problem, or we can begin to discuss solutions."

Dr. Sharon Herzberger, President of Whittier College

President Sharon Herzberger of Whittier College joined the Initiative and explains:

I, like many of the signatories [of the Amethyst Iniative], do not claim to know what the "magic" legal drinking age should be nor if a change in the drinking age will lead to more responsible conduct. What I do know, however, as a president and as a parent of recent college graduates, is that our laws and policies regarding alcohol use by young people are simply not working.

Dr. Herzberger says that

Clearly, we have two choices: We can continue shutting our eyes to the problem, or we can begin to discuss solutions. As president of an institution that teaches students to do the latter, I know I must lead by example.

So I have joined the Amethyst Initiative and have been vocal about calling for reasoned discussion, a full analysis of evidence from studies in this country and abroad, and the benefit of expert opinion from those who deal with the challenge of alcohol use and abuse on a regular basis. After this discussion, we as a nation can decide whether the current law, while flawed in its outcomes, is the best we can expect or whether change is in order.

There's much misinformation and even fear-mongering. There's no call not to enforce the drinking age laws but Dr. Herzberger notes that "Mothers Against Drunk Driving, an organization I admire, has warned parents that they should not send their students to colleges whose presidents signed the initiative for fear that such presidents will not enforce the drinking laws. MADD's warnings are certainly not true."

Dr. Herzberger is an outstanding leader.


  • Sharon Herzberger. Why I signed on to Amethyst . Whittier College's president calls for a more coolheaded discussion on revisiting drinking-age laws, Los Angeles Times, August 28, 2008.

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