Claremont Insider: The Amethyst Initiative: David Oxtoby is On Board

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Amethyst Initiative: David Oxtoby is On Board

The Amethyst Initiative. It sounds soothing and beautiful and soft and loving. A carelessly tossed necklace on a wooden nightstand in a honey pool of Sunday morning sunshine. Or, as in the screenshot above from, it might be a pair of 30- or 40-something professors sharing a little apr├Ęs-lecture bubbly with a couple of coeds. (Oh. You say they aren't coeds? We say, "Card 'em.")

Actually, it's an effort by college presidents and chancellors to "rethink the drinking age". It began only last month, in July of 2008. If you somehow thought that this sounds like an initiative that Pomona College president David Oxtoby ought to get involved in, since his Alma Mater decision has now been ruled on by the New York Times, you would have thought right. He's already there:

"I support this initiative because it will allow our colleges to engage in real education of our students about responsible use of alcohol, as well as model moderate behavior. At present we are constrained only to talk about abstinence, since anything else is against the law. Treating college students as adults will help them to make more responsible decisions."

~David Oxtoby, Pomona College

He has signed on
with some 113 (as of this writing) other college presidents. At this time, no other 5C president has signed on. Probably the news hasn't made it to the hinterlands.

What has President Oxtoby committed his campus to do, apart from beginning to "engage in real education"?

"...Signing the statement commits you [the college president] to describing, as clearly and fully and compellingly as you can, the place of alcohol in your own campus community [that should be a great convocation]. Signing the statement, finally, commits you to making sure the discussions in which you are engaged, or which you will lead, are civil, informed, and dispassionate [none of those shrieking parents of dead children, killed by a drunk driver], weighing all evidence, excluding no credible participants [always, always keeping control of the guest list], and considering all policy alternatives, no matter how controversial, assuming that, once the discussion has run its course, and all voices have been heard, either policy and reality will be seen to be in alignment or policy will be changed to reflect reality more clearly." [here is the page this paragraph quotes]

It sounds as if the college presidents won't be changing the world on this topic. If their students want to drink, if the reality is a dozen or more per semester carried off to hospital on a gurney, well then let's change policy to reflect reality. Let's define the problem away.

The signers of the Amethyst Initiative believe that amending a provision of federal law relating to highway funds, and lowering the drinking age to 18, will solve their own problems with their students. This is in line with the magical thinking of the fable of Dionysus, Amethyst, and Diana that led to the naming of the initiative:

The word Amethyst is derived from the Ancient Greek words meaning “not intoxicated” (amethustos). According to mythology, Amethyst was a young girl who incurred the wrath of the God Dionysus after he became intoxicated with red wine. Amethyst cried to Goddess Diana for help. Diana immediately turned the girl into a white stone. Upon discovering what had happened Dionysus wept, and, as his tears fell into his goblet, the wine spilled over the white rock, turning it purple.

The purple gemstone amethyst was widely believed to be an antidote to the negative effects of intoxication. In Ancient Greece, drinking vessels and jewelry were often made of amethyst and used during feasts and celebrations to ward off drunkenness and to promote moderation.

Maybe they ought to follow the classical tradition and the suggestion of this 1997 post and just give out amethyst drinking cups to all frosh.

Magical Thinking.