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What Happened to the Introspection? In Its Discussion of Housing Decisions, MIT Forgets about Alcohol Education

Naveen Sunkavally

Nearly a month has passed since the death of Scott S. Krueger '01, and the administration's response since then has been a mere echo of what most students and outsiders have most wanted to hear: a ban on alcohol by the Interfraternity and Dormitory Council, a revamping of rush, the construction of a new undergraduate dorm, and the call for an introspective dialogue. None of these ideas, however, address the main cause of Krueger's death: a chronic lack of alcohol education across the MITcampus.

All across the campus the IFC, Dormcon, and the administration sound their drums: Boom, Boom, Thou shalt not consume alcohol, Boom, Boom, Thou shalt not supply underage students with alcohol, Boom, Boom. They feel a lack of compliance with the underage drinking law is the problem without realizing that the drinking law itself is broken, used only retroactively and called to attention only when an incident like Krueger's death occurs.

Prohibition, as the recent Zeta Psi incident most conveniently demonstrates, has never worked. It does little to spread the dangers of alcohol and serves only to smear blame away from the drinker to the rest of the campus. Because Krueger was 18, and not 21, there has been a tendency to blame other things - namely those who furnished him the alcohol - more than Krueger himself for his actions.

It is ridiculous to believe that 18-year-olds are less mentally evolved than 21-year-olds and to even dare draw a line between when one can and cannot be mentally evolved. Had Krueger been 21, this debate over underage drinking would have stayed put at the bottom of the lake, and the real reason behind alcohol abuse, namely a lack of alcohol education, would have surfaced to the top.

The faculty at its next meeting will vote on whether all freshmen should be housed on campus. The administration has suddenly, after years of clamoring, decided to build another undergraduate dorm. People have discussed moving rush to spring or lengthening it from two days to six weeks or a even a year.

But these goals do not correspond to the true cause of Krueger's death. Do calls for revamping rush and building a new dorm necessarily mean that MIT students will learn better how to consume alcohol? Will building an undergraduate dormitory two or three years from now make students more responsible in the short run? If rush moves to spring, will those freshmen who move into fraternities in spring will be more aware of alcohol's negative effects?What can we do now so that in another two months, after the shock of Krueger's death becomes less ingrained in our minds, another tragedy does not occur?

If introspective dialogue about the proper use of alcohol is taking place, I am not aware of its presence and so far have not been asked to take part in it. President Charles M. Vest has called for the creation of a seminar chaired by Chair of the Department of Department of Biology Phillip A. Sharp and Chief of Student Health Services Mark A. Goldstein, but this group consists of only six faculty and four students, hardly the number needed to gain a realistic picture of MIT's problem. We can not wait for this seminar to discuss the problems and relay what they think to the student population.

We need something quick and massive and mandatory and constant. We need education that will run against the current cultural adulation of intoxication, not mere statements that this type of incident could have occurred on any other college campus. The Undergraduate Association, to an extent, in proposing to invite major speakers to discuss alcohol abuse, is taking a small step in the right direction.

We need more, however, like speakers from the Medical Department every week in Kresge with attendance required. Only when students understand the physiological effects of alcohol will they understand its power. Those who abstain or are responsible in their use of alcohol may laugh at such a comprehensive alcohol awareness program, but even abstainers need to be taught things like how to deal properly with a friend who has passed out and is unconsciously vomiting.

It is no wonder that a recently released survey done by the Medical Department shows that 61 percent of MIT students in 1995 responded that they did not know if MIT had an alcohol and drug abuse prevention program. We cannot have the chief sources of information about substance abuse information lurking in the Campus Police and Medical Departments next to rape awareness and LSD pamphlets.

We can not concern ourselves with peripheral issues like housing and rush when the root of the problem revolves around cultural misperceptions. We need to focus on ways to educate the individual on how to deal with the uncomfortable environment rather than change the uncomfortable environment to accommodate the individual.