The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 37.0°F | A Few Clouds

Institute Threatens Steer Roast

Renowned Festival Raises Safety Issues

By Rima Arnaout

MIT’s concerns about safety threaten to drastically change or eliminate the 36-year tradition of Steer Roast.

“It was my impression that both the Campus Police and the Safety Office ... felt that there was just no way the Steer Roast could be done in that location,” said Dean of Students Margaret R. Bates.

“Administrators don’t really like what Steer Roast represents ... MIT is in the process of establishing new traditions,” said Blake R. Brasher ’01, one of Steer Roast’s chief organizers.

Fire, ledges a safety concern

The Safety Office is concerned principally with the size of the steer roast fire and its proximity to the ledges of Senior House, on which people sit while watching the festivities.

“Both of those things are so fundamental to the event that the question is do you move the location” or change Steer Roast to eliminate the ledge and fire problems, Bates said. Bates doesn’t know whether a modified Steer Roast will take place this spring or whether the event will be cancelled this year.

“Steer Roast has an amazing safety record,” Brasher said. “As far as I know no one has ever been injured or killed themselves” during the event.

Brasher is “still confident that we will be able to keep some of the aspects” of the party like the steer and the Senior House location that make Steer Roast what it is, he said.

In their negotiations with the administration, Steer Roast planners are discussing having a safety officer preside over fire lighting and barring people from sitting on the ledges of the building.

Bates also mentioned that hiring a professional caterer to roast the steer or making Steer Roast alcohol free might increase safety. She also suggested moving the event to the Johnson barbecue pits or the Student Center.

Current residents and alumni would rather eliminate Steer Roast rather than move it from Senior House, Brasher said. Both Bates and Brasher have received e-mails from concerned alumni.

Assembly rules problematic

MIT’s administration also raised concerns about the large numbers of students that traditionally attend Steer Roast, especially in light of the Cambridge Licensing Commission’s new enforcement of MIT living groups’ lodging house license.

According to the lodging house rules, any Cambridge FSLIG needs to obtain a special permit to have an event with over 50 non-residents.

MIT’s office of government relations is currently discussing with the CLC how the assembly permit will affect having an event in the courtyard, Bates said, and whether Senior House will need to apply for a special permit to hold Steer Roast.

Last year Steer Roast was limited to 500 people, Brasher said.

Image of students an issue

Bates said that the administration’s self-consciousness about the behavior of its students is not behind their safety concerns about Steer Roast.

“Things that might not have been looked at [in the past] are scrutinized now,” Bates said. MIT has caught heat from both the local press and Boston and Cambridge licensing boards this year, leading to the closure of fraternities and public relations disaster.

“If something happened [at Steer Roast], how would we justify the decision making process which led up to that,” Bates asked.

“It’s totally an issue of liability,” Brasher said. The MIT administration wants “to keep something from happening at a dorm because that way they can make it seem like the problems MIT’s been facing are in the frats alone.”

Those problems “are not with the students and how the students use their free time, how they party,” Brasher said. “They’re with MIT’s relationship with the city of Cambridge and with the media.”

Bates said that although liability is a danger in today’s climate, “the issues of personal responsibility are far more salient. College students are being asked to think seriously about the consequences of their actions.” Students are asking to be seen as adults, she said, and thinking though the results of one’s actions is part of that.

Steer Roast an MIT tradition

Steer Roast is “a real community-building event for Senior House, but I don’t think it’s quite the type of community-building that MIT wants to encourage,” Brasher said.

“They also don’t care that [Steer Roast] is one of the largest alumni events on campus ... because they’re afraid that Senior House residents will feel pressured to be more like the alumni were ... and Senior House has somewhat of a reputation for being rowdy,” Brasher said.

Senior House has sponsored a Steer Roast every spring since 1964. The weekend-long event, includes bands, mud wrestling, body painting, and of course roasting a steer.

The roast takes place in Senior House’s courtyard, and is attended each year by hundreds of students.

“The Senior House motto is ‘sport death,’ which makes a lot of administrators cringe. Steer Roast is just three days when Senior House residents live up to this motto more than during the rest of the year,” Brasher said.

According to Brasher, “the administration saw the photographs in The Tech last year of people sitting on the ledges and of the fire pit being lit ... it’s hard to get through to them that it’s just a blazing inferno for about five minutes.”