COLUMBIA — Kai Holderby is a 19-year-old sophomore studying accounting at MU. On summer evenings, he likes to kick back, enjoy a Cardinals baseball game and drink a beer or two.
While he usually sips beers three to four nights a week, he says he tries to keep his drinking moderate.
For more information on lowering the drinking age, please see the health section in this Saturday's weekend edition.
"I don't like to be sick," Holderby said. "I've seen a lot of people do stupid things while hammered. I like to have control of myself and my body."
According to a 2007 survey conducted by the MU Wellness Resource Center, Holderby is among 80 percent of 1,296 MU students polled who have consumed alcohol in the past year. Holderby said he drinks more on weekend evenings and seldom drinks more than five or six beers in an evening.
Holderby said he would favor a law that would legalize alcohol consumption at age 19. He said drinking comes with maturity, and by the time people are 19, they will be making decisions on their own.
"That's part of being an adult," Holderby said.
In 2007, the Wellness Resource Center conducted a survey asking students if they had consumed five drinks or more in a single night during the previous two weeks. The survey showed that 63 percent of MU students said they drank less than five drinks in a night, said Kim Dude, the director of the resource center.
The Amethyst Initiative is an effort to open debate about the effectiveness of the current U.S. drinking age. It is a petition university presidents and chancellors are signing in order to create discussion on the subject and provide Congress with information about the effectiveness of a lower drinking age before they decide, in 2009, on renewing the federal drinking age suggestion for states, which is set at 21.
MU Chancellor Brady Deaton and UM System President Gary Forsee recently said they wouldn't be signing the petition. Deaton said, through MU media spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken, that the current drinking age is a good law.
The initiative is the work of John McCardell, the president of Choose Responsibility, which is promoting the initiative.
The premise of the initiative is that students create dangerous drinking behaviors when they arrive at college, such as binge drinking and drunk driving, because the legal drinking age is too high for them to be legally accepted in American society as responsible drinkers.
"If you're an adult at age 18, then you're an adult at age 18," McCardell said. "If you have the maturity in signing a contract and serving on a jury, then you should be able to purchase alcohol."
So far, leaders of 129 universities, including Ohio State and Duke, have signed the petition.
The federal 21-and-older policy comes with strings attached. If a state doesn't implement the federal recommendation as law, they lose 10 percent of their annual federal highway funding.
McCardell is president emeritus of Middlebury College in Vermont and said university presidents are prevented from talking to their students about safe drinking behaviors. He said the legal drinking age is 21, and any message from presidents suggesting safe drinking behaviors would be viewed as advocating for underage adults to drink.
Dude challenged McCardell's statement and said MU is aware that some underage students are going to drink. She said that's why the school has programs that address responsible decision making, harm reduction, social norming and environmental management.
In the 2007 Wellness Resource Center survey, Dude said, 25 percent of students said they engaged in binge drinking, which refers to having more than five drinks in one sitting more than once a week.
After conducting a test with MU students multiple times over the past several years, Dude said she discovered that students do not have a good understanding of the amount of alcohol in the drinks they consume. She said some students were making irresponsible decisions by pouring nearly four times the amount of hard alcohol per glass in each of the four glasses they would usually drink in a night.
Sober driver programs like STRIPES and CHEERS are two ways the Wellness Resource Center is trying to decrease the amount of drunk drivers. Dude said the 2007 survey found that 92 percent of students who get drunk said they use a designated driver.
In 1984, the Minimum Drinking Age Act established the federal recommendation that states set their legal drinking age at 21.
A news release from the MU chancellor's office in response to the Amethyst Initiative cited statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showing the percentage of alcohol-related vehicular fatalities dropped from 60 percent in 1982 to 39 percent in 2005.
Since 1999, the Wellness Resource Center has conducted social norming surveys with MU students. While still being conducted, these surveys, Dude said, have discovered that students often misjudge the amount of alcohol other students drink. In order to properly address drinking problems, Dude said all elements of the community work together to decrease problematic drinking. As a result, a campus and community coalition called the Access to Alcohol Action Team formed in 1998 to create an environment that supports good decision making. This team includes the Wellness Resource Center, Greek Life, the Columbia Police Department, the court system, bar owners and others.
"We need everybody working together," Dude said.
The news release in response to the initiative also stated the school wouldn't sign it because it could cause young adults to begin drinking at a younger age than they are now.
The release also stated that keeping the drinking age at 21 can reduce the risk of alcohol dependence because it pushes back the onset of drinking.
Holderby said he hopes many things would change with a lower drinking age. One problem underage adults have when they drink is drinking too much, he said.
"It can creep up on you," Holderby said.
He said changing the law would allow young adults who are going to drink a safe place to do it. Appropriate amounts of alcohol could be poured, and the bartender could cut off those who are too drunk.
Holderby also said many underage students are using fake IDs to purchase alcohol. He said those who get in trouble with a fake ID might not if the drinking age were lowered.
"I don't think 21 is protecting anyone," he said.