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Subject Educators Urge Lower Drinking Age to Cut Bingeing
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Original Message Article By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 20, 2008; Page B03

Scores of college presidents, including the head of Maryland's public university system and the president of Johns Hopkins University, have an unexpected request for legislators: Please, lower the drinking age.

"The college presidents who have signed onto this initiative know that some young adults drink. They just do," said Dennis O'Shea, a spokesman for Hopkins. "And with the law the way it is, we have to be enforcers. We're not in a position where we can have a good, open conversation with students about drinking responsibly, safely and in moderation."

The Amethyst Initiative, launched in July, is a growing coalition of college presidents who say that the legal drinking age of 21 is not working -- that it, in fact, encourages binge drinking on campuses. William Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, William Brody, president of Johns Hopkins, C.D. Mote Jr. of the University of Maryland and the presidents of Washington and Lee, Sweet Briar, Towson, Randolph-Macon, Duke, Tufts, Dartmouth and others have signed on to the effort.

Other area school leaders to sign on include those from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, Goucher College, Hollins University, Hampden-Sydney College, Washington College, Gettysburg College and Dickinson College.

Several state legislatures have recently considered lowering the drinking age from 21, which has been the national standard since the mid-1980s.

Drinking is so pervasive on college campuses that Ames, Iowa, is installing rubber sidewalks next week in an area near Iowa State University -- the many kegs unloaded for parties have smashed the concrete. Despite efforts to rein in binge drinking over the years, it has remained a stubborn problem for administrators, campus police, neighbors and emergency medical workers.

In recent years, the University of Maryland has made headlines when mobs of drunk students have filled Route 1 in College Park after some basketball games, setting fires and getting in fights.

It is likely to be a difficult political struggle to change the drinking age.

In a survey released yesterday by Nationwide Insurance, which is holding a symposium on binge drinking in Washington in November with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, three-quarters of adults said they support tougher enforcement of existing drinking laws.

In Maryland, the House drug and alcohol committee chairman called on local schools to not take part. "Far more teens die in alcohol-related incidents than [in those caused by] all the other illicit drugs combined," said Del. William A. Bronrott (D-Montgomery), who co-founded the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, which fights drunken driving and underage drinking. "Lowering the drinking age to 18 will only make the situation worse.

"The lower the drinking age, the more access younger children and younger teens have to alcohol," he said. "If we're concerned about the health and safety of young people in college and high school, one of the worst things we could do is to lower the drinking age to 18."
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