College presidents call for review of lowering national drinking age, Byrd ‘not taking a stance’ until more discussion

by Brittany FriesthNews Editor

More than 100 college presidents and chancellors have signed an official statement supporting an initiative to hold a public debate over the nation’s legal drinking age.

Since initially being formed in July, the Amethyst Initiative has been calling lawmakers to discuss issues regarding the nation’s current alcohol policies and how to better prepare young adults on the responsibilities of drinking.

According to the group’s statement, “it’s time to rethink the drinking age.”

The initiative has called upon elected officials “to support an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21-year-old drinking age” and “to invite new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol.”

The list of presidents supporting the initiative’s efforts includes presidents from Coe College in Cedar Rapids, and Loras College in Dubuque.

Although Simpson President John Byrd has not taken a position, he does support the opportunity to openly discuss the issue.

“I’m not taking a stance on it, other than I support the discussion,” Byrd said. “I think all of that can be beneficial, but there’s not really a lot to take a stand on right now other than to agree with that it can be healthy for us to take a look at the drinking age and try to better understand how it impacts the behavior of young adults.”

Another reason why the initiative calls for a discussion is because the legal age may have some effect on binge drinking.

Byrd notes this type of drinking concern may also be why its positive to have the discussion.

“I think it’s a good thing so we can try to understand binge drinking and the unwanted effects that we have today,” Byrd said.

According to Mark Freyberg, associate professor of sociology and social science department chair, binge drinking is the real problem that the initiative is attempting to address.

“That’s the argument being proposed by these college presidents,” Freyberg said. “The set-up where kids are exposed to all these messages about alcohol, but not to alcohol itself, leads them to a very free, open situation in college.”

Freyberg also notes that without any type of supervision, some students are unequipped to handle the new freedom when arriving to college, which may lead to unhealthy drinking habits.

“To some extent, if the kid drinks earlier, presumably the parents are more aware and can take some kind of action,” Freyberg said. “I really think the issue is identifying earlier and better equipping students to handle alcohol at a time when they can get closer supervision.”

Freshman Pat Gerhardt first heard about the initiative when he came to Simpson.

“I heard about it a few weeks ago and personally think it should be 18,” Gerhardt said. “Everyone knows that when you go to college you’ll more than likely drink underage at some point.”

To sophomore Shannon Stevenson, lowering the drink age brings mixed feelings.

“Although I’d enjoy it being lowered, I’m not sure what the positive or negative effects could come from it because you’d still be running into the issue of students binge drinking, some more often than others,” Stevenson said. “Then again, I believe if you can smoke and fight for your country, you should be allowed to legally drink.”

Other students don’t fully agree with lowering the drinking age, citing the negative effects drinking already has on those who are of age.

“I understand that they [Amethyst Initiative] believe that binge drinking is a problem, but I just don’t know if the idea of lowering the drinking age is the main solution,” senior community assistant Russell Place said. “It could go either way. It might help, but it might also make it worse.”

Byrd welcomes students to enter into the discussion, no matter what the outcome of the initiative’s efforts.

“I think everyone at Simpson certainly has the opportunity to take a stance on it and to enter into the discussion,” Byrd said. “What I don’t know is what conclusions might be reached, whether the drinking age is at the right place or whether it should be older or younger.”