Since it was drafted in July, more than 120 college and university presidents have signed the Amethyst Initiative, a statement that calls for a public discussion about the 21-year-old drinking age. College presidents who have signed the statement are not asking for a specific change in policy; instead, they hope to stimulate "an informed and dispassionate debate over the effects of the 21-year-old drinking age." The signatories represent schools ranging from Ohio State University to Hamilton College?but Bowdoin is absent from the list.
President Mills has chosen not to sign, reasoning that lowering the drinking age would affect all young Americans, not just those enrolled in college. Even so, a college campus is an appropriate and important setting to discuss the merits of the 21-year-old drinking age.
We are constantly reminded, by the College and by our own experiences, that Bowdoin is a diverse campus. People from many locations, cultures, and backgrounds are gathered here. Living in an academic, residential community, we should feel prepared?perhaps even obligated?to talk about an issue so important and relevant to our lives.
The Amethyst Initiative emphasizes the importance of discussing the current drinking age, but does not limit these discussions to college campuses. In a statement released in August by Mills, he said that he believed "that the conversation and debate about an appropriate legal drinking age needs to be much broader." But what could be broader than the "public debate" that the initiative calls for?
In the past, Bowdoin has been engaged in conversations about important social issues, from carbon neutrality to Darfur divestment. Through the Amethyst Initiative, institutions of higher learning are stimulating public discourse about the drinking age. But the signatories do not wish to limit the discussion to the confines of their campuses. The college and university presidents who have signed the initiative have been willing to publically acknowledge that the 21-year-old drinking age does not work on their campuses in order to encourage a widespread national conversation.
Twenty-one is not working at Bowdoin. The mere existence of "chem-free" first-year housing sets underage drinking as the norm. College houses frequently host large parties with kegs, even though most of the house residents and party-goers are younger than 21. Many students use fake I.Ds to purchase alcohol, and Security prioritizes alcohol safety over strict enforcement of the legal drinking age.
Mills said that he welcomes "the important discussions on this issue that will certainly now follow." But we urge him to step up and push Bowdoin into the national debate about the legal drinking age. The colleges and universities represented on the Amethyst Initiative cannot speak for all young Americans, but they are courageously inviting all Americans to enter an important dialogue.The editorial represents the majority view of The Bowdoin Orient?s editorial board, which comprises Nick Day, Mary Helen Miller, Adam Kommel, and Cati Mitchell.