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At MIT, the Drug Of Choice is More

These last few days all of us - students, faculty, and MIT community members, have thought often of Scott S. Krueger '01 and Umaer A. Basha '01, two young men of MIT who died this month. We witness, in various ways, our own and each other's grief at their deaths. Let us also remember Yngve K. Raustein '94, an MIT student from Norway, stabbed to death several years ago on Memorial Drive by a drunken youth.

Krueger died of alcohol poisoning. We know how he died. But why did he die? His parents will ask this question over and over. We must do the same. I believe that Krueger's death was caused, indirectly, by indifference and denial. To some degree, the indifference was his. He could have realized that he was drinking too much, too fast. Indifference afflicted his fellow students, the fraternity brothers who may have urged him to drink too much, too fast. I have no idea where the legal responsibility will finally rest. But I know that we must address the invisible plague in our midst: denial.

The burden of responsibility is on all of us to recognize the dark side of our culture of excellence. As you struggle with an often punishing load of coursework, you may or may not recognize that others at various stages of their careers are punishing themselves with a desire, sometimes bordering on compulsion, to be the best or the fastest, to do the most and do it first. Unchecked, this urge to excel can transform into disrespect for physical, moral and social limits. While the Institute's culture of excellence is unique, our society at large suffers from excesses of all varieties: our drug of choice is more.

Parents of MIT undergraduates surveyed this year consider use of alcohol and other drugs as two of their top three concerns (MIT Faculty Newsletter Vol.X, No.1, p.24). Until this tragedy, however, too many students saw alcohol as a problem-solver. Too many in responsible positions on campus saw it as an unhealthy but only occasionally dangerous stress-reliever. Too few recognized it as a critical, life-threatening problem. People insist, "Drinking on campus isn't an addiction problem!" Does it matter at this point whether it is or it isn't?

Basha's drowning was a terrible accident. Raustein's murder was a terrible crime. It has yet to be determined whether Krueger's death from alcohol poisoning was a crime, but it certainly was no accident. Krueger died of a massive overdose of indifference. The disease that took Krueger's life, addiction or not, is a disease of the feelings, or more precisely, a disease of "un-feeling."

Eve Odiorne Sullivan Senior Editorial Assistant