Alcohol Policy Breeds Distrust
The incidents of the past year have forced the MIT community to question the role alcohol plays in the lives of students. Over the winter, students, faculty, and administrators struggled with that question and proposed answers in the form of new Institute alcohol policies for individuals and groups. Now, with policies and committee reports in hand, the MIT community must begin to live with the answers that it has found.
The fact that we have a policy, however, does not mean that the decision-making process is over. The administration must now determine how these new policies will be enforced. In its deliberations, the administration must be careful not to enforce policy through instilling fear and distrust. Such a move could have unfortunate consequences. We are concerned by the growing distrust between students and the Campus Police. We are also concerned that a similar distrust is beginning to poison the relationship between students and graduate resident tutors.
The relationship between students and the Campus Police exemplifies the way in which enforcement should not be handled. The current alcohol policy forces police officers to act asintrusive enforcers of state law. The problem is amplified by the fact that the Campus Police serve as the only reliable medical transport on campus. There is some fear in the student body that students cannot call upon the Campus Police for help in an emergency without fear of investigation. Nothing compelling has been said to address these fears. The "good samaritan" clause in the alcohol policy makes calling for help an extenuating circumstance when deciding on punishments for violations, but after a month of watching this policy in operation, we can safely say that this has not alleviated concerns in the student body. Further steps must be taken to reassure students that they can safely call the Campus Police.
In such an environment, it is disturbing to see the trust between students and graduate resident tutors eroding. Tutors are already a fixture in Institute housing and will soon be a part of every independent living group. History has shown that they can be an extremely valuable resource to students: They have always been available as a voice of maturity who can be relied upon for their discretion.Deputizing tutors as alcohol enforcers would deny students a valuable resource in times of need. A tutor should feel able to counsel and assist students involved in violations of Institute policy and state law without prefacing a conversation with a warning that they will be obligated to report any infractions of Institute policy to the administration. Good tutors are willing to accept the kinds of liabilities involved in their decisions; MIT should have the courage to look beyond legal concerns, focus on the welfare of students, and allow the tutors this freedom.
The administration should enforce state law, but while enforcing state law, it should also take constructive steps rooted in education and understanding rather than in intimidation. The administration must balance adhering to state laws and its own policies with maintaining the trust of the student body, which is explicitly threatened by those very laws and policies. Even though that balance is precarious, failing to find that balance will nullify any good which might have been gained from our season of introspection.