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Serious Problem, Nominal Solution

Naveen Sunkavally

The ostensible purpose of President Charles M. Vest's decision to house all freshmen on campus starting in the year 2001 is "enhancing our educational community and better integrating student life and learning," as stated in Vest's open letter to the faculty, students, and staff about a month ago. This decision, that letter said, was ostensibly based on the report of the Presidential Task Force on Student Life and Learning.

One would have to be naive to accept this reasoning for its face value. After all, it's highly probable that Vest would not have made this announcement if the tragic events of last year had not occurred. The real reason for the decision, we all know, is that there is a notion, whether false or true, that dormitories are safer residences than fraternities, that fraternities engage more often than dormitories in irresponsible and dangerous behavior. And there was probably a great deal of outside pressure from the media that at least contributed to the decision as well.

That being said, a glaring now contradiction arises when the administration's ulterior purpose is placed in the context of the events of last Friday. Last Friday, there were two parties at Baker House. Both were unauthorized. One allegedly resulted in the transportation of a 20-year-old student from Simmons to Massachusetts General Hospital, where she was treated after having been found vomiting in a fourth-floor bathroom at Baker. In addition, the third-floor party was rather callously advertised beforehand as containing "all the Fiji punch you can drink."

This incident at Baker demonstrates remarkably well that, contrary to what the administration thinks, or contrary to what is wants to think, fraternities and dormitories are not very different in their consumption of alcohol. Students in either environment are prone to consuming alcohol to the degree of intoxication and hospitalization. But the housing decree in mid-August prescribes that only fraternities shall suffer for their alcohol habits. Meanwhile, those living in dorms can do as they wish without the threat of severe punishment. Somehow, regardless of the circumstances, there seems to be the perception that those who drink in fraternities always do so in groups while those in dormitories only do so individually. Why the double standard on the part of administration?

If the administration really wants to solve the problem of wanton, reckless, uninhibited alcoholism across campus, it's got to try something different besides merely switching where people from fraternities to dormitories. I think it's clear that students can no longer live in dormitories. For the sake of better integrating the community and enhancing student life and learning - or was it the other way around, enhancing the community and integrating student life and learning - I suggest that starting in the year 2001 that all freshmen be housed in administrative offices scattered across campus.

Sure there's space. If there isn't space, we can make space. One water cooler removed will free up enough space for two whole freshmen. Freshmen don't need beds to sleep on; they'll be fine on the carpet. And restrooms - well there's plenty of those all over the place. If there's a problem, the Institute can just build more offices. As long as freshmen stay in their little offices and there are administrators to supervise their alcohol intake, everything should be fine. Sure, freshmen may end being a little sad, but life's life, right?

What's really sad though is that I don't think the Institute wants to solve actively the problems of substance abuse across campus. It would rather be content with a nominal solution, shifting people from one area of the campus to another, than the real solution, which revolves around education and modifying cultural stereotypes. And under a guise of improving student life and learning, the entire fraternity system must suffer for the sake of a pseudo-solution.