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Squaring The Circle On Alcohol

Dan Dunn

I have been deeply hurt by the death of Scott S. Krueger '01. I have been at MIT through suicides, murders, plane crashes, car accidents, and illness. But this incident? It is very different. It has touched my deepest thoughts.

The obvious goal of the MIT community should be to prevent this from happening in the future. This is an excellent goal, but translating it into a plan is difficult. This last week has been a prelude to the long months of discussion, debate, and shouting that are likely to rage on.

As we move towards this goal, we have to consider if it is even feasible. In other words, is it actually possible to prevent this from happening in the future? Is it possible to ensure that there will never be an alcohol incident at MIT? We would have to closely watch the actions of every student at MIT. We would have to define, monitor, and watch every student every hour, every day.

That is not going to happen. We can't monitor, then we can't truly prevent this type of incident from happening again.

That is a very bold statement: no matter what we do as a community, students are going to go to the Medical Center, and sometimes, die. Think about this for a minute. If I'm wrong, I'd be happy to hear it. Please contact me. But I think that I am right, and anyone who claims that they can end the problems is very wrong. If one of your leaders claims that he can solve the problems, question him closely; he is only misleading you.

We aren't going to completely end alcohol problems. The next best option is to make a repeat of this tragedy less likely.

Given where we live, in this urban environment with plenty of other colleges, someone who wants to drink will be able to. We have to teach them what happens when they over-consume. We have to show them the negative sides of alcohol. Education is our best bet.

Did this event make people think twice before they raised a glass this weekend? Not for everyone, but it certainly did for many. There are good education programs about the risks of drinking. More will be developed. Students can learn from the positive and negative experiences of others.

Students will, by and large, act in their own best interests. Not every time, but most of the time. Education is the way to help a student define his own best interest. Simply writing a rule does not.

If alcohol is banned, it is not removed. It is driven underground. Activities that are underground and out of sight cannot be adjusted or improved. It makes it impossible to help someone in trouble, and it makes the consequences of mistakes much worse. If it is underground, the group cannot learn from the mistake.

A further problem with banning alcohol is the false expectations that it raises. After a severe alcohol incident, there is a demand for stricter control. Students then drink in a more hidden setting. Another severe alcohol incident occurs. An over-excited press demands stricter laws, which are instituted. Drinking is driven still further underground.

You get the idea. When does this circle end? Is there some level of control where the circle is broken? We tried going as far as prohibition once, and that didn't seem to work. Even if we could go back to prohibition, or a stricter version of it, do we think that would work?

We, the members of the MIT community, are sitting on this circle at this moment. If we choose, we can tighten the circle down, and launch the next several steps. That may even be the easiest thing to do.

Thankfully, we have another option. We can say that this is a tragedy, and take steps to make recurrence less likely. But we cannot permit ourselves to be herded by a misleading media into a so-called solution that makes the problem worse.

Banning alcohol from our campus and our living groups does not solve the problems it claims to. It inhibits education - the real solution - without actually solving the problem itself.

Dan Dunn is finishing his undergraduate degree after working as a Chapter Service Consultant for Alpha Delta Phi for two years. He also serves on his chapter's housing corporation.