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A Public Relations Disaster: Now Is the Time for Introspection, Not Irreverent Posturing

Erik S. Balsley

I have been deeply concerned and saddened by the recent death of Scott S. Krueger '01 and the reactions of campus leaders to it. Someone has died, and yet most statements I have read from student leaders and campus officials have not dealt with the loss of a life but have been not-so-vague attempts of shifting responsibility for the tragedy away from themselves.

I learned of the news when I called The Tech a few hours before the evening news in New York ran a story on the issue. I left the country on Oct. 2 and am now in Japan and am still able to keep up to date on the latest developments in the tragedy. In fact, an MIT alum recently called me and he first brought up the topic with me. My newfound distance from the Institute has in some ways allowed me to take a more objective look at it, and I have realized that the official statements and poorly-thought-out actions of some members of the community are not only making those who said them look foolish, but also the entire institution.

MIT is running scared, and it shows. The incident itself would no doubt have damaged MIT and affected the community, but the official reaction has compounded the damage. Aside from statements made at the candlelight memorial service for Krueger and Umaer A. Basha '01 and some of the letters that have appeared in The Tech recently, we have heard few honest expressions of sadness about the death.

Instead of taking a moment to admit that this has been a horrible accident and we are sorry to hear it has occurred and leaving it at that, most people have begun to immediately address systems and other things that people outside the immediate MIT community don't care about. Saying that we have suffered a tragedy, so let's take a look at the system, shifts the focus away from the death itself and places the emphasis on some abstract concept that cannot be held accountable for the death.

Hasty comments that do not acknowledge the fact that people have been affected have done considerable damage. "We work hard and we play hard," said Undergraduate Association President Dedric A. Carter '98. Others have made blunt statements as well, so I do not mean to draw attention to Carter alone. These types of statements do not deal with the death. They make the speakers look tremendously shallow, and most of all have no air of respect.

Recent inconsiderate actions are also making even honest efforts to deal with the tragedy seem shallow. I am referring to the incident where a Zeta Psi underclassman allegedly attempted to buy a keg with a fake identification. Even if the keg was for private use and therefore did not technically fall under the Interfraternity Council's voluntary ban on alcohol at parties, it was an illegal, irresponsible, and inconsiderate action given the circumstances surrounding the tragedy. It has shown the world there really hasn't been any thought about the systems mentioned in MIT's official statements and actions.

MIT is under its own microscope and that of the world's. Every shallow action taken resonates both inside and outside the MIT community.

One family has suffered a great loss. The MIT community has been affected by a terrible and needless tragedy. Instead of taking a quiet moment to reflect upon the incident respectfully most people have shifted the focus away from the death towards abstract systems. In so doing not only have the speakers sounded oddly out of place, but have made the MIT community appear unfeeling, shallow, and incapable of introspection for the whole world to see.

This is not a question of public relations but of respect and introspection. Officially there has been neither of these two things. This may ultimately be the most damaging part of the tragedy as it plays out.

Erik S. Balsley '96 is a former sports editor of The Tech. He is currently studying at the University of Tokyo in Tokyo, Japan.