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Proposals to Lower Drinking Age Well Meaning, Misguided


A handful of university chief executives have called for a national conversation on lowering the drinking age to 18, under the “Amethyst Initiative,” sparked by John McCardell, president emeritus of Middlebury College.

Fordham University does not support the Amethyst Initiative, and though its proponents are well meaning, they may be abdicating their responsibility to students. The Initiative’s statement says, in part, that “Twenty-one is not working” and compares the 21-year-old drinking age to the nation’s failed attempt at Prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s. There is no comparison.

Prohibition assumed that mature adults were not competent to decide whether they should consume alcohol. The rationale behind current law on the drinking age is in part that until one reaches 21 years of age, the average person isn’t fully competent to make informed decisions about alcohol consumption.

Lowering the drinking age also sends the wrong signal about what the University considers healthy, responsible behavior, and contrary to the Jesuit ethic of caring for the whole person.

“We at Fordham have been involved in the important work of engaging students in conversations about the dangerous culture of alcohol for a number of years. And how could we not?” said Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the University. “As a Jesuit university, we believe that it is our duty to invite students both to reflect on issues like this one, and to remind them of their dignity as human beings, a dignity that can be compromised by the culture of alcohol.”

Father McShane cited a New York Times editorial, “Colleges and Binge Drinking” (Sept. 17, 2008), as a fair reflection of Fordham’s position on alcohol consumption by young adults. “The Times wrote, ‘The 21-year-old floor is not the problem. It is the culture of drinking at school,’” Father McShane said. “I think they got it just right.”


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