Lehigh University
Lehigh University
President Alice P. Gast

Speeches & Writings

An Open Letter on the Amethyst Initiative

September 29, 2008
Alice P. Gast

The following letter to the campus community by Lehigh President Alice P. Gast appeared in the September 29, 2008 issue of the Brown and White.

When the Amethyst Initiative was introduced this past July, it came as no surprise to me that the topic of lowering the drinking age would attract the attention of the media and gain the interest of students.

I certainly encourage a debate about a critical issue that poses a serious threat to the health and safety of students at all colleges and universities, including Lehigh. But I do not believe we need to sign a petition to engage in this important discussion.

That is only one of the reasons why I chose not to sign on to it. There are several others.

I believe that signing, in effect, would signal support for lowering the drinking age to 18, though the Initiative's supporters insist it is merely intended to encourage debate on this topic.

I am not convinced that lowering the drinking age would result in more responsible or safer behavior by 18- to 21-year-olds, and I have seen no evidence that suggests a lower drinking age would reduce traffic fatalities and alcohol-related deaths, injuries or harm. I am concerned the situation could get worse.


I worry that lowering the drinking age would only serve to push the problem down to the high school level. Instead of having 21-year-olds buying alcohol for 18-year-olds, we would be more likely to see 18-year-olds buying alcohol for 16-year-olds, who may lack the maturity to make responsible decisions.

I am not naive about our students' use of alcohol, nor are my colleagues at Lehigh. We share a goal and a commitment to help our students make safe, healthy choices and reduce the problems that so frequently occur with alcohol abuse.

Alcohol abuse is a national problem and is not limited to college-age students. It is a problem we have addressed at Lehigh. For more than 10 years, we have participated in long-range programs to address the issue of abusive drinking and its residual affects on the campus community. And we have continued to develop and implement programs, policies and other prevention efforts to change the environmental factors that contribute to the abuse of alcohol.

I am encouraged that 99 percent of our first-year students logged onto our AlcoholEdu program and 97 percent have completed the first phase of that program. And, for the first time, more than half of those participating in that program expressed an interest in alcohol-free social opportunities.

Substance-free housing, available on our campus for over a decade, was revitalized in 2007 at the initiative of a group of committed Lehigh students. This program has grown from 11 participants to more than 140, who choose to be alcohol- and drug-free in their campus homes.

I encourage open debate and discussion about drinking and alcohol abuse. I encourage our students to engage in responsible behavior and to make good decisions, which is part of our students' education. But I remain unconvinced that lowering the drinking age, or signing the Amethyst Initiative, will help us achieve these goals.

— Alice P. Gast, President