Clarkson 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.

President Tony Collins of Clarkson University explains that "universities can most effectively engage students in developing personal accountability with alcohol when they are given opportunities to interact openly with their peers and other members of their community in socially responsible ways."

Dr. Collins explains that the university enforces the minimum legal drinking age law "with an admitted amount of frustration because we know that enforcement on our campus drives underage drinking out of public sight and limits opportunities to role model and encourage appropriate behavior with alcohol."

President Collins continues that

We have more in common with persons on the opposite side of the debate than we have differences and it is in those common areas that the debate and future action should focus. All sides of the debate wish to avoid the negative consequences associated with poor choices around alcohol consumption, most significant among those being drunk driving. I believe we all endorse full enforcement of those laws.

As a nation, however, we are not addressing the more systemic issue of excessive drinking among some cohorts of our youngest adults - adults with voting rights, adults serving our country in military uniform and adults building families in our communities. We have taken the easy road in trying to legislate behavior rather than focus on teaching and instilling personal responsibility. As a college educator, I am committed to promoting an open dialogue where responsible choices are respected, and where we role model the kinds of behavior we seek to inspire for a safe and well rounded campus life.

The time for this kind of debate is now. Young adults across the country are engaged in the political process like never before and in exciting ways. Those of us on college campuses see their energy and their mature sense of purpose as they acknowledge their role as the future leaders to address many of the most critical issues of our time - global climate change and renewable energy, peace and civil justice around the world, and the creation of economic opportunities for all of humanity to live rewarding lives.

Just as we support open dialogue about these critical issues impacting our society, our University's participation in the Amethyst Initiative is intended to bring alcohol issues out in the open, encourage productive conversations about the real issues we seek to address and work towards solutions that address the mutual concerns of all who are impacted by the personal decisions individuals make when they consume alcohol. We offer the AlcoholEdu program to all first-year students and others on campus health and wellness initiatives. Clarkson in no way condones underage drinking and will continue to enforce the age-21 law on its campus. We do endorse and ask for the debate of this law to begin.

Kudos to President Collins for his leadership.


  • Tony Collins. Amethyst Initiative. September 8, 2008.

Filed Under: College