The Amethyst Initiative began with an invitation extended to John McCardell, President Emeritus of Middlebury College and Founder of Choose Responsibility, to speak at a meeting of the Annapolis Group, a group of about 120 liberal arts colleges, in June 2008. In preparing for that presentation, McCardell contacted several Annapolis presidents who were long-time friends to solicit their thoughts about the effects of the 21 year-old drinking age. The group quickly discovered a common desire to reopen public debate over the drinking age and began to frame a statement expressing their views.
The statement as finally drafted does not, by design, prescribe a particular policy change. It does, however, state clearly the signatories' belief that 21 is not working as well as the public may think, that its unintended consequences are posing increasing risks to young people, and that it is time for a serious debate among our elected representatives about whether current public policies are in line with current realities.
The group discussed the possibility that other presidents might agree that 21 has not been an unmitigated blessing and might welcome both the formulation of language to which they could subscribe and the opportunity to join others who are similarly persuaded. They thus began to widen their circle of correspondence and quickly concluded that all presidents and chancellors of all colleges and universities should be invited to join the effort, which now needed a name.
And the Amethyst Initiative was born.
The word Amethyst is derived from the Ancient Greek words meaning “not” (a-) and “intoxicated” (methustos). 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.
The amethyst is thus a meaningful symbol for this initiative, which aims to encourage moderation and responsibility as an alternative to the drunkenness and reckless decisions about alcohol that mark the experience of many young Americans.