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Politics Must Make Way for Safety

Naveen Sunkavally

With the spring semester approaching fast, I still find it hard to believe that the freshman class that entered this institution five months ago is now two people smaller. The deaths of Umaer A. Basha '01 and Scott S. Krueger '01 were both senseless, but the circumstances behind each tragedy were vastly different. Basha's death leaves one feeling the pangs of human insignificance in the hands of sinister fate, while Krueger's death tastes of bitter human failure and ignorance.

There are always experiences that men and institutions should not have to go through, but the experiences having happened, it is imperative that as much as possible be learned from them. Krueger's tragic death should not have occurred, but it will be an even greater tragedy if we do not learn anything from it.

So what has occurred so far? The administration and student organizations slapped together bans, President Charles M. Vest established a committee on binge drinking that has yet to produce anything, and the introspective dialogue scheduled for the month of October has yet to occur.

To his credit, Vest did announce the construction of a new undergraduate dormitory, but an extra dormitory does little to combat alcohol abuse without education. In fact, it will only create a place to which our current problems can spread. Incidents such as those at Zeta Psi, Theta Chi, Sigma Phi Epsilon, and Bexley House have occurred at the rate of one per month, and there is no reason to believe they won't continue given the delays in introspective dialogue. The incidents have shown that students do not want to give up their alcohol and suggest that alcohol bans are not effective solutions in encouraging the safe consumption of alcohol.

The Institute did demonstrate that it wasn't completely insane when a somewhat irrational resolution suggesting cramping all next year's freshman on campus died a whimpering death at a faculty meeting. But that's all that's happened.

I understand that all educational institutions are foremost political institutions, but someone in power sometime soon must recognize that politics must play second-string to safety. Neal H. Dorow's statement that he was unaware of drinking at fraternities might be an astute political maneuver geared to avoid further outside media outrage, but what it really demonstrates is MIT's sheer lack of concern for student safety. It's as if all these years problems have been banging at our door, and now that the door has come crashing down, we are still unable to see them in the eye.

So what should be done?First, administrators must form a concrete alcohol policy. I don't think many students, let alone administrators themselves, can fully explain current alcohol policy and what constitutes a violation of alcohol policy. Administrators are handling all alcohol-related affairs on a whimsical case-by-case basis. For example, I can't understand why the administration has coddled Bexley House after its most recent violation while it has slammed fraternities such as Theta Chi with a suspension of privileges.

After forming a concrete alcohol policy, administrators must inform the students of it. Such a simple step could be achieved by e-mailing students through residence mailing lists. Once the rules are in place, then modification of rules can begin, through civil disobedience or debate.

In an October column I said that continuing a general ban policy will only drive drinking underground and do nothing to teach safe alcohol consumption. I still think that this is the case. We can put in place a useful level of supervision by having the Institute adopt some of the rules put forth Interfraternity Council's alcohol policy, such as the presence of party monitors and required certification for parties serving alcohol.

It is unrealistic to expect students to follow an underage drinking law that itself does not make sense. Students 21 years of age do not experience some cosmic revelation that makes them more responsible than students 20 years and 364 days of age. If Krueger had turned 21 seconds before his death, would there be as much controversy as there is now? The only reason I see for keeping this law is to prevent highway deaths, but the majority of MIT's underage population doesn't even drive.

The current focus on underage drinking rather than irresponsible drinking suggests that the administration is more concerned about liability than safety. Effective alcohol policy is a concern of the entire MIT population, from undergraduates to faculty. It will cover not only underage drinking but also irresponsible drinking. And the only way to address irresponsible drinking is through education.

In my October column I suggested that one method of education would involve students attending mandatory lectures on alcohol awareness at Kresge; I now realize that such an idea is only a chimera. Perhaps expanding and extending sessions like "Beer 101" would be more practical.

Krueger should not have died, but we need to at least learn from it. The Institute is only stumbling over the introductory steps of this process, and if we continue to stumble, we'll find ourselves reeling back in last October's tragic situation.