Widener University Joins Amethyst Initiative to Discuss Underage Alcohol Policies

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.

"We cannot allow a few highly opinioned voices to shut down this conversation before it begins. To find workable solutions, we must face the truth about underage drinking."

Dr. James T. Harris III, President of Widener University

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.

President James T. Harris III of Widener University has long been actively involved in efforts to reduce the problem of underage alcohol abuse. He is concerned that the current law has likely driven some students to drink off-campus in environments with no responsible social controls. He joined the Amethyst Initiative to promote "a serious debate about how closely public policy, including the drinking age, and the reality of campus life are aligned."

He stresses that "It is important to note that the presidents who signed the initiative are not advocating for the drinking age to be 18; rather, we are saying that a serious and sustained debate on public policy should be held and that the drinking age should be one of many issues discussed."

President Harris emphasizes that "we do not advocate breaking laws that do not suit us; we advocate examining those laws - and perhaps working to change them - through informed opinions and healthy debate."

He notes that "Unfortunately, there are some who strongly believe the legal drinking age should remain 21 and suggest we are acting irresponsibly just for opening the debate" but "We cannot allow a few highly opinioned voices to shut down this conversation before it begins. To find workable solutions, we must face the truth about underage drinking."

In conclusion, "The academy has always been the place where controversial topics have been discussed and debated. As we move forward, let's not shoot the messengers; let's solve this national dilemma."


  • James T. Harris III. From hallowed halls, a call to open debate on drinking age, Philadelphia Inquirer, August 26, 2008.

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