Fence-sitting: Casteen holds off on drinking age initiative

UVA President John Casteen is waiting for "evidence" before agreeing to sign the Amethyst Initiative.

Should the drinking age be lowered from 21 to 18?

That question is being asked around UVA Grounds– and around the country– thanks to the Amethyst Initiative, an effort by a group of college presidents to open an "informed and unimpeded debate" about lowering the minimum drinking age. On Saturday, UVA prez John Casteen told parents of incoming first-year students he still didn't know whether he'd ink his own name below the 128 college presidents already on the list, according to a transcript of his speech.

"It depends on whether they're able to develop and publish the evidence," he said, "to prove there's not a negative difference in the impact on young people."

Some people intimately acquainted with the drinking habits of UVA students are hoping Casteen will soon see that evidence.

"I would like to see Casteen sign," says John Crafaik, owner of Littlejohns, who believes the drinking age should be lowered.

"From my experience, they're going to acquire alcohol from somewhere," Crafaik says of the 18-20-year-old set. "Forcing them to do this behind the scenes does not provide proper respect for the law."

Like other critics of the 21-years-old drinking age, Crafaik points out that 18-year-olds can vote, marry, and fight in a war. "Having a beer with a pizza," he says, "seems to be something they should be allowed to do."

Over at Baja Bean Company, Ron Morse would also like to see Casteen's name added to the Amethyst list– and eventually he'd like to see the drinking age lowered.

"To me, an 18-year-old is drinking anyway on campus," says Morse. He cites European countries where teens can drink freely. "It's not that big a deal," he says. "It's learned through the home."

But another restaurant owner says he worries that lowering the drinking age could cause big trouble.
"In my opinion, it will increase alcohol consumption because it'll be legal, so anybody underage will not have to go out and work at having alcohol bought for them," says Jim Rowland, owner of St. Maarten's Cafe. "As an old guy whose been there and done that," he adds, "I think 21 is a good age."

Virginia's drinking age– along with most other states'– was raised in 1984 by the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which tied federal highway funds to the older age limit. Supporters of the Act– Mothers Against Drunk Driving [MADD] and various government agencies, among others– say raising the drinking age has saved countless lives by preventing highway fatalities.

Critics, however, suggests other factors– tougher drinking and driving laws, increased seatbelt use, and ubiquitous air-bags– should share the credit for the drop in fatalities. Meanwhile, the Initiative states, the raised drinking age has created "a culture of dangerous, clandestine 'binge-drinking'" on college campuses and has eroded respect for the law by encouraging students to use fake IDs.

By deferring a decision on whether to sign the Initiative, Casteen, who did not respond to the Hook's request for comment, seems to be deftly avoiding controversy. It's a safer position considering the heat other college presidents are taking from lobbying groups like MADD, which has lashed out at the Amethyst signatories for "shirking their responsibility to protect students" from the "dangers of alcohol" and issuing "deliberately misleading" information to push their agenda.

It would be hard to levy such a charge against Casteen, however– he served on the National Institutes of Health alcohol awareness task force for several years and for his efforts received the first President's Leadership Group Award from the U. S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention in 2003.

Indeed, according to several recent studies and surveys, binge drinking at UVA has dropped significantly thanks to a focus on "social norms marketing," in which ads and education are geared to teaching students that binge drinking isn't normal behavior.



MADD = Mothers Afraid of Drinking a Droplet
MADD = Mere Alcohol Destroys Denizens
MADD = Many Addled Deprived Dames
should I keep trying?

Well, none of the arguments posed above make a lot of sense. College students are using fake IDs to get alcohol. If the age is raised to 18, it'll be a heck of a lot easier for high school students to get fake IDs (it's easier for a high school junior to look 18 than it is to look 21). Worked for me!

And this is just silly: ââ?¬Å?From my experience, they’re going to acquire alcohol from somewhere,” Crafaik says of the 18-20-year-old set. ââ?¬Å?Forcing them to do this behind the scenes does not provide proper respect for the law.”

Setting aside the obvious motivation for a restaurateur who sells alcohol to see the drinking age lowered to 18, by his logic everything that is illegal preempts proper respect for the law. Drinking at 14? No respect for the law. Premarital sex in Virginia? No respect for the law. Driving 36 in a 35 MPH zone? No respect for the law. And it's illuminating to learn that college students are forced to drink behind the scenes. Must be a fraternity thing.

Unless my memory is really failing me, teenage highway fatalities went down immediately when the drinking age was raised (also, in VA it's been 21 to buy liquor for a long time - what was raised was the 18 year-old limit for beer). This happened before air bags.

If they lower the drinking age, how about they balance that by adding a mandatory 5-year suspended license for anybody under 21 who is convicted of driving with ANY blood alcohol level? Might be a deterrent, might not, but at least it would keep young AND stupid drivers off the road during the years when they're most dangerous even when sober.

And it would help to make host liability extremely severe for any bar owner who serves too much alcohol to somebody under 21. Seems fair - they can get the extra alcohol sales, but they would need to be seriously cautious about over-serving. A kid under 21 leaves your place and kills some poor soul? Kiss your ABC license goodbye for ten years. If somebody dies as a result of their greed, ten years might be too brief, actually.

If they are willing to give a 6 month jail sentence to ANYONE who provides alcohol to a minor then perhaps I would say go ahead.

Perhaps insurance companies should be allowed to charge a surcharge since they will be taking a larger risk.

If young adults are deemed too young, and not responsible enough to drink at age 18, then they should not be expected NOR allowed to fight, kill, and die in our nation's wars, period. Perhaps they should not be allowed to vote either?

Raising the drinking age was misguided and shortsighted policy in 1984 and still is today. We pride ourselves on being a nation built on personal responsibility and individualism, but we continually limit our young peoples' ability to exercise responsibility through our overly litigious culture and politically tainted policy.

Ben - so based on what you say we should allow 10-year olds to drink?

It's like the gun argument - one that I've never lost. Let's say the second amendment is sacred and let's even ignore the "militia" part. Let's all agree that the government can't infringe upon the right of American's to own and possess guns. Okay.

So convicted cop killers who get out on parole at some point can have guns.

8-year olds can have guns.

The criminally insane can have guns.

The guy who shot Reagan can have a gun when he's on furlough with his parents, and when he's eventually released.

If you support all of those statements, then consider yourself a strict interpreter of the second amendment - at least while pretending the whole "militia" clause shouldn't be taken literally.

But if any of those scenarios don't sit well with you and you don't want any of those people to be allowed to own guns, then you have agreed that it IS appropriate for the government to impose rational and sane limits on "individualism."

Same thing here. It is appropriate for the government to impose rational and sane limits on the drinking age. To say that since 18 year olds can vote and join the military means they should be allowed to drink is just silly.

Music lover- you need to talk with more adults if you have never lost the "gun" argument or you lost and no one told you. Rights belong to law abiding citizens but no right is "sacred" if you commit crimes. You can loss the right to vote, the right to bear arms, and several others if you are convicted of a felony. Age of consent exist in nearly every society. Guns, driving, consensual sex,voting and drinking age of consent are a valid exercise of the power of the state.

It's "silly" to say that your old enough to defend and die for your country but not responsible to drink? Why? "Young man please take this gun and all these explosive and defend you country. No you can't have a beer" That makes sense to you.

The drop in drunk driving deaths is a much a function of the laws and courts. Today when you get your first DWI you insurance company gets notified. 20 years ago you went to an ASAP class and that first offense was wiped away. Drinking and driving were treated more causally 20 years ago than now. the stats reflect it.

Today students binge drink in private, away from private eyes.
An 18 year old drinking age might help stem that problem. It has been reported that it's easier to get pot in high school than alcohol. The college presidents are on the front lines and have no financial stake in lower the drinking age. They do have concern for the helath of their students.

A year or so ago my business had a couple of interns from UVA. I asked them, when they were underage, which was easier to get, Alcohol or illegal drugs (marijuana and XTC in particular.) To a person, they each responded that drugs were much easier to get on campus than alcohol. When asked why, they said it was just harder to find someone to go to the store. It really made me rethink this whole 21 thing. Is this law pushing college kids towards illegal drugs? From my limited experience it would appear so.

When I was growing up, my parents let us have the occasional glass of wine, or beer, long before I ever got to college. As I watched my peers who had stricter parents get into some serious trouble as they got into college or turned 21, I realized how stupid this law really is. dinkig Alcohol responsibly isn't a skill gained intuitively on one's 21st birthday. Frankly, I think it'd make a heck of alot more sense to make kids wait until 21 to get their license or join the military and make the drinking age 18. Conversely, how about just make it legal to drink in moderation under "parental guidance". After all, we issue learner permits for cars, but then just hand kids a bottle of vodka and expect them to figure it out themselves...

I agree the draft/drinking age should be the same.

If you are mature enough to handle a gun and kill for your country; you're mature enough to handle a beer.

The article states, "It would be hard to levy such a charge against Casteen, howeverââ?¬â?? he served on the National Institutes of Health alcohol awareness task force for several years and for his efforts received the first President’s Leadership Group Award from the U. S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention in 2003.

Indeed, according to several recent studies and surveys, binge drinking at UVA has dropped significantly thanks to a focus on ââ?¬Å?social norms marketing,” in which ads and education are geared to teaching students that binge drinking isn’t normal behavior."

What the article SHOULD HAVE said:

Casteen has learned not to take a public stand on anything unless it involves Diversity and has instructed his PR people and campus police to cover up all crimes that occur on his campus. Whether it's binge drinking, stealing, cheating, or rape - the only reason we THINK these crimes have been reduced at UVA is because Casteen's people have tailored their crime reports and spin media coverage to make you believe these type of incidents/crimes have lessened. The sad truth is that they have actually increased.

When I was in college the drinking age was 18 and we survived. Does Casteen have a plan for the increase in shenanigans and crimes if the age were lowered, or will he just cover up more of the same????

Many people overlook the increased role the parents could play if the age limit is lowered.
If I were a parent, I would prefer my children experiment with alcohol while they are living under my roof (or at least in the same city) during their final year of highschool rather than have them experiment with alcohol in a completely new environment where they will most likely try harder to fit in by using alcohol.

Come on everyone. Why does this discussion continue? What's going to happen is going to happen. Kids should NOT be allowed to drink LEGALLY until they are allowed to drink LEGALLY; whatever age that is. Why is this so hard to deal with? Why go against the grain -- b/c it's there to go against? GROW UP! IF you choose to; you drink when it's legal. And Martin, get a grip! You would prefer your HIGH SCHOOLER to "experiment" with alcohol while under your roof? What a GREAT role model! It's probably good thing you're not a parent yet. I drink, my husband drinks, we have parties where there is alcohol (sometimes LOTS) but I also have 2 kids under age -- 20 and 18 (the 18 year old is at UVA) and NEITHER of them drink. It's ILLEGAL you Bozo's...IF they choose to drink; it will be at 21. The 20 year old boy most likely will and the 18 year old girl AT UVA will NOT. Both have been around drinking FOREVER; seen falling down drunks and responsible drinkers. But they both knew there were rules and they were MADE to abide by them. The falling down drunks made the best impressions -- how IDIOTIC they looked and sounded and acted did the trick! They will make their OWN decision when it's legal to do so. But you can bet your butt they were NEVER allowed to "experiment" in MY house underage. What a ridiculous statement that parents continue to say over and over just to cover up the fact that they have NO idea what their kids or doing OR they can't CONTROL their children. It's nothing more than that -- they find out their kids are drinking and this is their justification for that somehow. Looks like LOTS of parents out there need some parenting courses!