Death Sparks Campus-wide Review Of FSILGs, Rush, and Alcohol PoliciesBy Jennifer Lane
Editor in Chief
Following the death of a freshman pledge, a community of 5,000 undergraduates from 52 living groups is preparing to discuss and examine the ways in which alcohol affects life at MIT.
Scott S. Krueger '01 and Fiji are now the names by which issues of under-age drinking and fraternity life at MIT will be discussed by students, administrators, and faculty members.
President Charles M. Vest promised to "set in motion a campus-wide dialogue, and search for more effective ways to avoid such tragedies in the future," in a statement released Sunday.
Robert M. Randolph, Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs, put it more bluntly. We will "be looking at the whole system. I promise you that," he said. "This tragedy is a wake-up call for all of us - that what we perceived as difficulties are real," he added.
Specific topics for future discussion include housing, party policies, and the entire first-year experience including residence and orientation week, Randolph said.
The first set of talks with students began Monday. Freshman advisers were instructed by Dean for Students and Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams to discuss on-campus drinking in their freshman advising seminars.
Problem transcends Greek system
"Damage has been done" to the fraternity system at MIT, and our community "has a lot of progress we need to make," said Iddo Gilon '98, president of the Interfraternity Council.
Problems surrounding poor judgement and alcohol are not isolated to the Greek system. Under-age drinking is "not just a problem inherent to fraternities, sororities, or Greek life" at MIT, said Undergraduate Association President Dedric A. Carter '98.
"MIT students work hard and play hard," Carter said. "The consequence of playing hard for some people is abusing alcohol," he added.
This incident "could have happened at several fraternitiesŠ it could have happened in a dorm," said Fenway House President Christopher D. Beland '00.
"People on campusŠ drink too," Gilon said.
Officials said that the problem's magnitude required a far-reaching response. "The problem is more complex"than just a drinking problem within the fraternity system, Randolph said.
"We have a communal responsibility for one another," he said. This "is a community issue."
"The reality is"that "we are aware that incidents of underage drinking occur" and "we try to control it as best we can," Randolph said.
No amount of heavy-handed administration can solve the problem, he said. It's "not going to get better until the community says that underage drinking, especially in excess, will not be tolerated."
Any policy resulting from this incident should focus on peer education rather than punitive measures, Randolph said. "The key has got to be to build some kind of serious, cooperative commitment."
Students slow to receive reports
Williams is planning to send a letter to undergraduate students' parents detailing the incident. The letter will explain the current situation and will describe the policies being formed to prevent such problems from reoccurring. For more immediate coverage of the situation, however, the administration has been relying on the local media to keep students informed, Randolph said.
Monday, Randolph said Vest was "considering sending a letter to the entire community"formally informing students of the events that transpired over the weekend.
"Information flow is a problem," Carter said. "There's been a lot of grapevine stuff going on," as students pass along rumors and hearsay, he said.
"There would be a lot less anxiety if [students] knew" what was going on, Carter said.
A letter from Vest would probably not be sent to the MIT community until Wednesday, Randolph said. Vest was out of town for an IBM board meeting yesterday and was not available to either write letters or appear at news conferences.
The Boston Police are still conducting an investigation into the events of last Friday night. That investigation has also slowed the flow of information.
We are "getting information as it becomes available," Gilon said. The administration "is very much trying to keep us in the loop."
The information the administration has available essentially matches the information presented by local media, the administration has that information only slightly earlier, Gilon said. The lack of detailed information made it difficult for the IFC to take specific actions, he said.
Also, before taking any direct actions, the administration "is waiting to see the complete police report," Randolph said.
Institute practices under review
The discussions taking place in the media and within MIT over the course of the next month will not be limited to under-age drinking. It will also cover issues ranging from housing to Residence and Orientation week.
"I fear it will affect R/O week because of the way MIT is portrayed in the media," Gilon said.
Freshmen coming to the Institute next year may be less likely to pledge fraternities due to negative impressions received in the aftermath of this incident, he said.
The incident "has very serious implications for rush next year,"Beland said.
Also looking towards next year's rush, the administration finds itself publicly wondering whether MIT's residence system needs revamping. Perhaps the current rush procedures are faulty, Randolph said. We have to question "whether we're asking freshmen to make decisions too quickly."
"I think R/Owill be looked at really hard," Randolph said. "We have no incidents for a period of time, and people relaxŠ we can't relax," he said.
The lack of enough undergraduate dormitory housing may also come under question.
"We do need to increase our undergraduate housing," Randolph said. The new graduate dormitory planned to be built at University Park in Central Square "may open some opportunities,"he said.
Other issues to be examined include developing a policy for parties "that is respected and honored," and looking into money from student dues that is being spent on alcohol both on and off campus, Randolph said.
It may be time to "really break some barriers" and implement radical changes, Randolph said. "Maybe we should have an alcohol or substance-free area of campusŠ maybe we need to put adults in the fraternities," he said.
Frank Dabek contributed to the reporting of this story.