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Media Irresponsible in Alcohol Reporting

Elaine Y. Wan

We all know too well that alcohol on campus has become the focus of media attention. College binge drinking has always been a main concern of parents, education administrators and the Harvard School of Public Health. Student deaths related to alcohol consumption across the nation have caused educational institutions like MIT to try new strategies to "improve the quality of student life."

In the September 11th edition of the New York Times, an article entitled "Little Drop in College Binge Drinking" reported the results of the College Alcohol Study by the Harvard School of Public Health. The study found that two out of five college students are binge drinkers while four out of five residents of fraternities and sororities, called "hotbeds of heavy drinking at many colleges," are binge drinkers. Binge drinkers are defined in this report as males who have at least five drinks or females who have at least four drinks in a drinking session. The article further compared the number of binge drinkers in different ethnic groups.

This study, by Harvard's Henry Wechsler, mentioned MIT's decision to house freshman on campus starting in the fall of 2001 and the current strategies used by colleges in Virginia ranging from printing dates of birth on student identification cards to discussions on binge drinking as attempts at a solution to the binge drinking dilemma.

Towards the end of the article, Weschler was quoted as saying, "Colleges should be working together with the community to work jointly on the problem because simply squeezing the alcohol supply on campus may result in people going off-campus." The community Wechsler is referring to is the Cambridge community, the Massachusetts community, not MIT's community of students.

When the media says that MIT has decided to change its housing system, MIT becomes a representation of only the task force on student life and learning and education administrators, not MIT students. Although there were students on the task force and its advisory board, there are many more students unhappy with the decision.

Reports like these discourage educational institutions from communicating with their students and housing freshman in fraternities or sororities. Whatever happened to compromise and trying to find out what students really want from their undergraduate life?

Many arguments have been brought up within the last few months to support housing freshman on campus. One of the major arguments is that housing freshman on campus will increase homogeneity, which has been concluded to be a "good thing." Homogeneity is the argument also used by supporters of affirmative action. I fully support learning about each other's cultures, interests and differences, but while students on campus will be forced to homogenize, students who remain housed in independent living groups will not. So, what will they think of next? Are they going to house everyone on campus just for the sake of homogeneity?

Most reports also emphasize the importance of exposing freshman to the "right influences." Freshman should be protected on campus their first year and then they can return to off-campus housing their second year. Well, there goes homogeneity in the second year.

I object to the article's comparison of the ethnicity of binge drinkers. The article states that a quarter of binge drinkers are Asian American and that Asians happen to be the only ethnic group that has an increasing percentage of binge drinkers. So what are they now suggesting institutions do? House all Asians on campus just because the statistics say that Asians are now more likely to become binge drinkers?

If the report was going to make a fair and dignified study on alcohol, it should have included other factors that contribute to the increasing consumption of alcohol, like environment and age. Are most binge drinkers living in environments where alcohol is easily accessible? How many of the students were under the legal drinking age?

Alcohol is a problem that has haunted campuses since their establishments. It is time for the media to understand that it will take more than simple numbers to understand such a problem and it will definitely take more than bans to get to the roots of this problem.