The Time for Interim Policies Has Past
As more and more violations of the alcohol ban pop up, it becomes clear that although the current alcohol ban was an appropriate immediate response back in October, it is not a proper permanent solution to alcohol abuse, and should not continue into the upcoming spring term.
The interim alcohol policy, which prevents the use of Institute funds for events where students under the age of 21 are present, was appropriate as a temporary measure. Because the policy has been in force for four months, however, it has begun to have serious negative effects on life at MIT. Although the policy may have had the initial effect of halting alcohol use on campus, at this stage it has only exacerbated MIT's problem with alcohol use. MIT should carefully examine the results of its current ban as it prepares to issue new guidelines for the spring.
The past few months have made clear that a ban on alcohol is not going to stop students from drinking. If anything, the current alcohol ban has greatly increased the danger alcohol poses to students at MIT. Many students have taken their drinking underground, or out to local bars. Stigmatizing alcohol use, and removing it from the supportive environment of the living group, increases the danger alcohol poses in two ways: first, peers and friends have a smaller chance of intervening or coming to the aid of students who have consumed excessive amounts of alcohol; second, forcing drinking off-campus increases the likelihood of accidents between the bars and students' homes. President Charles M. Vest specifically warned MIT of these dangers in his October press conference, yet the current policy does not appear to take them into account.
Another danger MIT now faces is that many students have become afraid to call the Campus Police or the Medical Center about alcohol incidents. Because they believe that reporting incidents to the authorities will result in press attention and disciplinary action, students at risk may choose simply to not make that life-saving phone call. Surely this is not what the administration had originally intended.
Whatever the reasons for student drinking on campus, students need to know that they can contact the Campus Police in an emergency. Students in need of assistance should not have to fear being turned in for further disciplinary action.
The confusion surrounding the timing of the interim policy also has a deleterious practical effect on student life on campus. As students plan their spring social calendars, they have little way of knowing how to handle the issue of alcohol at events they are planning. Dissatisfaction with dry parties from last term have left students at a loss for how to plan social activities for this upcoming term. Also, plans for annual traditions such as Steer Roast have come to a grinding halt.
When the interim policy was announced, October was labeled a month of discussion and introspection. Now, as we drift toward February, nothing concrete has been done, and no permanent policy has been announced. The administration, bogged down by repeated incidents that may have been aggravated by the interim policy itself, seems to be waiting for a period of calm before announcing any progress. But the world will not stand still while the powers that be procrastinate and dither. These decisions should not be pushed back any longer. Students have been waiting long enough.
It is unfortunate that this interim policy has been in effect for as long as it has, posing real hazards to the student body. If we are to prevent further tragedy, MIT must reverse course. We must reject dangerous and overzealous alcohol bans and formulate permanent policies to help safely regulate alcohol use on this campus.