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Alcohol, Health, And Fear

Guest Column
Jason Kelly

I recently read Steven Millman’s guest column “Alcohol, Health, and Discipline” in the September 19th issue of The Tech. Millman states that the The Tech’s editorial had “missed the mark broadly” in suggesting that the Institute needed to take greater measures to assure students that they need not fear retribution when seeking medical help for another student.

Fortunately, I read this article on the same day as I passed out this year’s “Facts about Alcohol” card, issued to each freshman. MIT’s policy to encourage students to get aid for friends in need is clearly evident by the text of the card:

“MIT is committed to enforcing all state laws regarding the consumption, purchase, and serving of alcoholic beverages. Students found to be in violation of these laws and/or related MIT policies are subject to disciplinary action.”

I think I would have trouble finding a better way to encourage students not to seek aid. I am interested to know how Millman feels that a student could deduce that “no one at MIT has ever been in trouble for seeking medical attention required by another student” from the contents of this card, which every student is encouraged to carry at all times -- it even comes with a discount to the coffeehouse.

Rather than address emergency situations and encourage students to do the right thing, it is MIT’s policy to use fear to prevent students from getting into a situation in which medical help is needed. This is highlighted in Millman’s column, in which he states, “Students at MIT must understand that the penalty they will face increases dramatically with each bad decision they make.” The idea that bad decisions are punished rather than good decisions encouraged seems to be the policy of the Committee on Discipline and the MIT administration as a whole.

This is a very frightening state of affairs.

It is easy to simply state that people must be responsible for their actions and reap what they sow; however, the situation becomes a bit more complicated when a person’s life is on the line. Millman said in his column that “the answer is not to make breaking the law a consequence-free action.” I agree with Millman on this point, but I do not see how seeking medical aid for a fellow student is breaking the law. If the administration is so interested in “enforcing all state laws regarding the consumption, serving, and purchase of alcoholic beverages,” then they should do so before it becomes a medical emergency. The campus police need not be doing detective work while trying to resuscitate an unconscious student.

This is merely the tip of the iceberg. The actions of the Cambridge License Commisson against Next House and several of the Cambridge-side fraternities have made it abundantly clear that seeking medical attention is not only punishable but could possibly result in the loss of the right to live in your home. An analysis of how the CLC is wildly overstepping its boundaries on its personal crusade would take the rest of this paper, so I will simply leave you with the unsettling feeling that the places which most fear calling for help are the ones where the large majority of MIT’s alcohol-related social events occur.

What can be done? MIT must decide what its policy is going to be. Either the administration will come forward and encourage students to seek medical aid by making it a decision-free process, or they will step back and take the hard line against campus drinking with anyone seeking help “subject to disciplinary action.” However, the current situation, in which the administration claims that there will be no penalty but advertises just the opposite, puts students in a state of confusion which leads to deliberation before calling for aid, if a call is made at all.

I encourage the administration to come forward and address the issue with a clear policy. If it is to step back and let the law handle the safety of its students, then so be it. It is my hope, however, that MIT will play a proactive role in protecting the health of its students, and make calling for help a decision that is no decision at all.

Jason Kelly is a member of the Class of 2003.