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Focusing on the Real Issue

Almost two months after President Charles M. Vest called for a campus-wide introspective dialogue on alcohol usage, little progress has been made in involving the entire MIT community in a productive discussion. Aside from the recent prohibition on alcohol at many Institute events, life at MIT is essentially unchanged. Furthermore, the narrow set of students who have attended discussion forums have been there to do little more than defend their turf in the face of possible changes to the housing system. Their panic over the threat of housing changes has focused the discussion almost entirely on housing to the exclusion of talk about the central issue of alcohol.

The dialogue itself has been relegated to an extremely low significance as far as student body is concerned. At no point have the administration or faculty noted that the discussion is of the same, if not greater, importance than schoolwork or activities. MITcould have sent a strong message about the significance of such dialogue by canceling classes for a time to gather students for a discussion after the death of Scott S. Krueger '01. Even though students could not be forced to give up their classwork to attend a discussion, the intention of the administration would have been unmistakable. Instead, forums and town meetings have taken a low profile.

Vest's town meeting solicited student participation but was scheduled at noon on a Friday, when many students had classes. While a few forums have been held, there has been minimal effort at encouraging discussion on a smaller scale. While some faculty members and administrators have attempted to gain an understanding of dormitory and fraternity life by visiting living groups and talking with the residents, few overall have been involved. Few graduate resident tutors have gathered together dormitory residents for serious conversations on alcohol use.

Although students have participated in campus-wide forums, none of the discussions has achieved what anyone would reasonably call "introspective dialogue." As with many political situations, soliciting the opinion of a broad range of people has been difficult. Most of the students who attended the forums have been those who feel threatened by the topics of discussion. A typical student at a forum was an independent living group member worried about a delayed rush or a dormitory resident concerned about randomizing housing selection. Most were there in essence to defend their turf, and the vast majority of those were ILG members. Chair of the Faculty Lotte Bailyn has even gone so far as to encourage better representation from dormitory residents since discussion had been dominated by ILG members. Few students have entered discussions with a willingness to see beyond their own their own situation and participate in or discuss the re-examination of the entire MITexperience.

Lost in the forum and the town meeting was the focus of the introspective dialogue on alcohol. A freshman died of alcohol poisoning in an off-campus fraternity. Students and faculty have argued over freshman housing to no end, but the issues of underage drinking, and drinking in general, have been largely ignored. Although some may argue that housing was a factor, the main cause behind the death was the misuse of alcohol. Although the now infamous motion proposed by Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences Stephen L. Chorover at October's faculty meeting set the tone for a discussion on housing, the fact remains that to ignore alcohol in the dialogue is to ignore the real issue. The indefinite Institute ban on alcohol will serve no purpose unless the administration has some concrete change to show for it. The housing topics now dominating discussion should have been peripheral to the central problem of drinking.

An effective, introspective dialogue about alcohol use has never truly materialized. However, it is not too late to start a productive discussion. A hard look at alcohol use should not be lost to discussion about housing and orientation.