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UC Berkeley Undecided On Drinking Age Initiative

This story was written by Matthew Peters, Daily Californian

Although leaders of 129 universities and colleges have signed an initiative to discuss changing the current alcohol drinking age, UC Berkeley is sitting tentatively on the fence.

Chancellors and presidents of college campuses across the nation have signed the Amethyst Initiative, which states that the 21-year-old drinking age is "not working" and "has caused a culture of binge drinking" on their college campuses.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau has yet to decide if he will sign the initiative because he is currently deliberating the advice of various officials, according to campus administrators. He will also consider a conference in early September, during which UC officials will discuss the initiative.

The conference, which will be held among the vice chancellors for student affairs across the UC system, will discuss how the initiative addresses students' alcohol habits and, specifically, how the current drinking age may factor into students' drinking habits.

According to Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard, signing the initiative does not equal support of lowering the current drinking age of 21-established in 1984.

"Signing on doesn't mean one supports lowering the drinking age," Poullard said. "What it means is having a critical discussion. The issue is how students are engaging (in) alcohol use."

The initiative aims to stimulate discussion rather than propose action and will foster formal discussion on college students' drinking habits, said Grahaeme Hesp, director of UC Berkeley's department of fraternity and sorority life.

"I think the key thing is that it is not a proposal, and it's just about having a conversation," Hesp said. "It is a

suggestion to have a structured, formalized conversation with everyone around the table."

Although campus officials consider the initiative an opportunity for discussion, many UC Berkeley students want the initiative to lead to lowering the drinking age.

Kate Cahill, an 18-year-old UC Berkeley sophomore, said she believes lowering the drinking age would familiarize young adults with responsible, mature drinking, like in Europe.

"A lot of kids don't drink in high school, so they end up binge drinking in college," she said, adding that she believes the current drinking age promotes immature drinking habits.

Another student, 19-year-old freshman Ray Hajduk, said lowering the legal age would promote responsible drinking because it would remove the need to drink behind closed doors, where drinkers tend to be more irresponsible.

"Lowering the drinking age wouldn't lower the number of kids who drink, but it would have an effect on how people respond to drinking," he said.

However, others argue lowering the drinking age would worsen underage alcohol consumption.

"Lowering the drinking age isn't going to stop binge drinking, it's only going to push it to a lower age," said Silas Miers, program coordinator for the California chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "Take a look at the stats and understand that putting your name on something like this is not beneficial to the university. It's going to cause a lot of problems."

Although several studies have tried to analyze underage drinking habits, the results have been mixed. Hesp said this ambiguity is a reason why the drinking issue requires further discussion.

"There are statistically valid studies arguing one point or the exact opposite," Hesp said. "That's why the first step is conversation."