Knapp shuns calls for drinking age reform

University President Steven Knapp said he has no immediate plans to question the nation’s drinking age, despite a movement by prominent higher education leaders who say the law encourages dangerous behavior.

The Amethyst Initiative, created by Middlebury College President Emeritus John McCardell in July, has been signed by 129 college and university presidents who feel the drinking age is not very effective and has unintended consequences that can pose fatal risks to young people. Its signatories include Knapp’s former boss at Johns Hopkins, President William Brody.

Knapp said he is concerned about underage drinking on campus and sees the reasoning for the petition, but is unsure that supporting it is the best approach for the University.

“I would like to have a fuller study and discussion with my staff before deciding if this is the best way to approach the issue of underage alcohol consumption,” Knapp said.

Last year, EMeRG took a record 253 students to the hospital for alcohol-related incidents. Knapp said alcohol education programs on campus and at orientation – rather than lowering the drinking age – will help curb the problem.

“A lower drinking age would mean more traffic fatalities and, frankly, a rise in the overall consumption of alcohol,” Knapp said.

While Knapp is not convinced that a lowered drinking age is the best route towards abating the problem, University of Maryland President C.D. Mote Jr. said he sees benefits in changing underage consumption laws. He signed the initiative after witnessing the effects of dangerous binge drinking in College Park, Md.

“My concern is for the health and safety of our students,” Mote wrote in a statement. “Alcohol use, and especially its abuse, is a health and safety threat to many University of Maryland students, just as it is to students at colleges and universities across the country.”

Grace Kronenberg, a spokesperson for the Amethyst Initiative, which takes its name from the ancient Greek words meaning “not intoxicated,” warns that the recent hype surrounding the petition has been skewed.

“Despite how this has been covered in the past week, this is not a legislative call to lower the drinking age,” Kronenberg said. “This is meant to open the discussion that has been going on for 25 years.”

She said this a “long term, no deadline initiative,” not a quick fix to the problem.

“We’ve been pleased to present a unified front who are courageous enough to speak up on this issue,” Kronenberg said. “But we know that this is a difficult decision for campus leaders, especially when under media scrutiny.”

GW sophomore Andrew Breest is the creator of the Facebook group called “1,000,000 Strong for the Amethyst Initiative: Lower the Drinking Age to 18.” After only one week, group members numbered more than 5,000 members nationwide.

Breest said the current drinking age “is clearly not working.”

He said, “I see that the (Amethyst Initiative) has the potential to help curb this dangerous activity of binge drinking not only at GW but at college campuses across the country.”

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