A Beginning, Not an EndThis week marks the end of one of the most painful periods of MIT’s history. Three years ago, the drinking death of Scott S. Krueger ’01 shocked the MIT community and the world. The settlement announced on Wednesday between Krueger’s parents and President Charles M. Vest brings much needed closure to the tragic situation.
With the settlement MIT has rightly accepted partial responsibility for Krueger’s death, and it has avoided a lengthy and public trial that would have only burdened the Institute. However, now that the pressure of a trial has been lifted, the urgency of serious debate and reform cannot be ignored. MIT must be careful not to see this as a means of avoiding the serious issues raised in the debate following Krueger’s death.
Krueger’s death can be seen as the result of two very sad and unfortunate occurrences. Although he may have known the general consequences of pledging a fraternity beforehand, he was forced to make decisions that many believe a freshman should not have been forced to make. Then, when those decisions proved to have tragic results, those around him failed to give him the care he needed, either because of ignorance or fear of taking the appropriate measures.
In the settlement, MIT seems to have made direct and specific efforts to address the first issue. By moving all freshmen to campus and setting a deadline for the undergraduate dorm, it will greatly reduce the risk of freshmen being faced with decisions that they may be unprepared to make.
Unfortunately, the settlement failed to adequately address the second and more important issue: alcohol education. Krueger’s death might have been prevented if he had received proper medical attention immediately. As the Kruegers themselves have acknowledged, drinking on a college campus cannot and should not be completely eliminated, but students should be given the knowledge to be able to recognize, and to respond appropriately to, serious alcohol-related situations.
Although statistics indicate that such situations exist more often in the fraternity system, the issue of alcohol responsibility will not disappear by moving freshmen on campus. The priority placed on dissolving the freshman fraternity experience raises suspicions that MIT is more concerned with liability reduction than with doing what it really takes to ensure the safety and responsibility of students.
A related issue that needs to be addressed now is confidentiality when securing medical help for a fellow student. In situations similar to Krueger’s, students must feel secure in knowing that their confidentiality will be preserved if they seek medical assistance. As the recent case of Next House shows, that security is still not existent. In that case, the Graduate Resident Tutor called the police after a student fell ill on his floor; the result was an appearance before the Cambridge License Commission and the introduction of absurd policies meant to control underage drinking. MIT needs to take measures to assure students that they will not be in trouble when seeking medical help for other students. Otherwise, when a situation’s severity is not certain, students may opt to refrain from seeking medical assistance.
The settlement reached this week brings closure to the tragic events surrounding Scott Krueger, but it should also serve to inspire the institutional changes necessary to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again. If the correct steps are finally taken now, perhaps Scott Krueger’s untimely death will not be in vain.