St. Lawrence 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.

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.

Dr. Daniel F. Sullivan, president of St. Lawrence University signed the Amethyst Initiative and explains that colleges are currently unable to help students learn how to drink responsibly in controlled settings with the assistance of faculty and staff.

President Sullivan doesn't believe that simply lowering the drinking age is the answer, but points out that it might be possible under New York law to introduce improvements. That's because the law permits persons under the age of 21 to consume alcohol

  • if they are students "in a curriculum licensed or registered by the
    state Education Department, and the student is required to taste or
    imbibe alcoholic beverages in courses which are a part of the required
  • if they are served alcoholic beverages by a parent or guardian.

Dr. Sullivan believes that these explicit provisions have in common "the assumption that alcohol consumption which takes place as part of an educational purpose in a controlled setting supervised by someone who has the interest of the underage person at heart should be legal because it should lead ultimately to more responsible drinking behavior."

The educational leader explains that "a college or a university might, in carefully defined situations, be willing to assume ‘in loco parentis' responsibility for overseeing underage student drinking if it is done in a way that helps students learn their limits and how to drink responsibly and safely."

Dr. Sullivan writes that he "can imagine some such circumstances and think broad discussion of what they might be could be very productive. Assuming such responsibility might entail additional legal risk for a college, or any other entity proposing to accept responsibility, but we experience great legal risk now and that level of risk might actually be reduced in properly designed circumstances."

President Sullivan has demonstrated outstanding leadership.


  • Daniel F. Sullivan. Student drinking: college students can safely learn limits, Albany Times Union, September 28, 2008.

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