Forum to lower drinking age sparks spirited debate

Monday evening, the Public Safety Aides held a forum in which individuals from the Geneseo community openly discussed the limitations of the current drinking age.

The Amethyst Initiative, supported by college administrators across the country, brought the topic to light in Geneseo. Co-PSA captains, juniors Danielle Relyea and Jaclyn Chafetz, along with the help of University Police Inspector Joe Van Remmen, organized the hour-long forum.

The forum was comprised of a panel discussion between five community members: Van Remmen, senior political science major Chad Salitan, Chris Taylor, executive director of the Council on Alcohol and Substance Abuse of Livingston County, Hop Manapol, Geneseo Town Council member, and Dr. Steven Radi, medical director of Lauderdale Center for Student Health and Counseling.

Of the five panelists, most were open to the idea of lowering the drinking age in hopes that it would decrease the desire to drink, especially in the case of binge drinking.

"Underage drinking is a challenge here at our campus," said Van Remmen. "Our concern for people's safety is not met by the current law."

To help solve the problem, Van Remmen suggested a more educational approach where students would be able to learn about different types of alcohol in the classroom in order to address their curiosity.

Manapol said, as a parent, that education "begins at home, really." He noted that often kids drink to be in an adult environment and are "interested in adult conversations."

"Congress turned [alcohol] into a forbidden fruit," said Salitan, who especially cited the inconsistency of the law with the rights that most 18-year-olds have, including the ability to buy a weapon or cigarettes and to serve in the armed forces.

Dr. Radi explained that as a health professional his point of view is determined by what he sees every day.

"My nightmare is the student injured or who dies from alcohol consumption," he said. According to Radi, usually 40 percent of the calls responded to by Geneseo First Response in the first half of the spring semester are alcohol-related. This year that number is down to about 30 percent.

Many members of the board cited statistical evidence to support their positions. Taylor especially emphasized that the fact that kids who drink before the age 15 "are more likely to abuse alcohol" than those who do not, and that "21 is put in place for a reason."

Radi noted that statistically, those students who are involved in campus activities are more likely to abstain from alcohol altogether.

Following the discussion, the audience, consisting of about 20 people, was invited to ask questions. Vice President for Student and Campus Life Robert Bonfiglio, University Police Chief James Stenger, Staff Associate for Student and Campus Life Kathleen Trainor, a handful of students and a few members of the community were all present.

"It is a very polarizing issue," Bonfiglio said. "The law promotes the general disrespect of laws." Bonfiglio added that he was surprised that there was not more support for the college administration for opening up to the discussion.

Organizer Relyea said she was, "pleased with the diversity of the panel," but agreed that she had hoped for a greater student turnout at the event.