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A Simplistic View

I am writing in response to the recent letter to the editor by Todd N. Chamoy '99 ["Krueger's Personal Responsibility," Sept. 22]. I found Chamoy's letter to be callous and ignorant of the facts in that it was full of unfounded assumptions; assumptions, that if taken in heart, can prove deadly as in the tragic death of Scott S. Krueger '01.

I am an employee of MIT. I graduated college back in the 1970's. College drinking and drugging was prevalent then, just as it is now, for those who sought it out. And I was one that sought it out - booze was my drug of choice.

Chamoy would argue that key phrases I used above, "for those who sought it out" and "was the drug of my choice," prove that personal responsibility was the reason behind both my own drinking and also Krueger's drinking that fateful night less than one year ago. Personal responsibility for one's own actions is of course a given, but to draw the line there and only there, as Chamoy does in his letter, is a simplistic view of the world, a view schooled in ignorance.

Peer pressure is a very powerful social force, especially in a new environment that allows for tremendous personal freedom away from the social rules, norms, and controls that always set the tone for personal behavior and surrounded by new friends and new role models who condone and encourage experimentation in new behaviors. Let's face it: This is the college life that incoming freshmen find in college dormitories, fraternities, sororities across the country - the party-hardy, party-til-you-drop philosophy. Incoming freshmen, indeed all students, at such parties face tremendous pressure to go along with the crowd "to fit in." Any student that has been at such a party knows this to be the case. The desire to fit in is often a powerful desire that wins out: It's human nature - we are social animals.

But it goes way beyond the desire to fit in at such a party that Krueger found himself a little less than a year ago. This was not your typical social get-together for a few drinks in a dorm or fraternity. This was an initiation/ hazing party. Some will of course deny this, but a common-sense review of the events of the evening will tell you otherwise. Such parties are not limited to fraternities; they occur in regular dorms also. I've been there - I've done that (back in the late 1970's). It is not a simple form of peer pressure at such parties.

Instead, it's peer pressure to the nth degree with upperclassmen "role models" barking in your face telling you to drink. Remember, I've been there - I've done that. I was even at a party where people there were held down and forced to drink. And Chamoy even alludes to the same, at the tail end of one of his sentences: "Krueger chose to live at Fiji - or any fraternity for that matter - and nobody held him down and poured beer and whiskey down his throat, at least not that I've heard."

"At least not that I've heard." Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the fraternity he seeks to defend in his letter.

Like Krueger, I was once carried back to my room and left with a wastebasket for my nausea and then passed out while the others went back to the party to continue drinking. Fortunately, I woke up the next day. Unfortunately, Krueger did not; there but for the grace of God, go I.

We live in a culture that hypes alcohol. Budweiser frogs and lizards lure youngsters to the hyped glitz of alcohol. But there isn't any glitz or glitter. Indeed, recklessly used alcohol contributes to an astronomical number of deaths, injuries, and disease. And often, all we say is "ain't them frogs cool" and consume mass quantities like the Coneheads.

Chamoy states that those of his generation "are all from the Just Say No' generation, and we've all been sufficiently brainwashed that there is nothing wrong with saying no to peer pressure." But let's face it: Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign, even though good in concept, was always ridiculed. And it is instead the Budweiser frogs and lizards that are doing the brainwashing.

It turned out that alcohol got the better of me. In 1983, I finally admitted to myself that I had become an alcoholic and that I needed help and that I needed to get to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Thanks to the grace of God I have not been tempted to drink since that day.

Perhaps it is because that alcohol has become such a vilified enemy to me that I often find myself thinking of the tragedy of Krueger's death. But it was the callous tone of Chamoy's letter and his ignorance of the facts that has brought me to draft this response.

Alcohol can be a scourge. One that should never be taken lightly. And peer pressure in a new environment full of freedom can be a powerful force in social interaction. To pin Krueger's death upon the choice to drink he made in relation to his own personal responsibility is buying into the myth those cute little Budweiser frogs and lizards croak about daily. And buying into that myth is like playing Russian roulette with our nation's health and well-being.

You do need alcohol and drugs to enjoy life. Take it from someone who knows. Don't buy into the myth. Ignore the frogs. Listen to Nancy Reagan's advice, "Just Say No." Be very wary of peer pressure in parties where heavy drinking is being condoned and encouraged. And seek immediate medical attention for anyone that exhibits alcohol-induced nausea or pass-out behavior. It's a matter of life or death.

[Editor's Note: The author of this letter wished to remain anonymous.]