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Administrators Develop New Policies on Alcohol

Anonymous Medical Transport Appears Unlikely, Calls for Emergency Help May Reduce Sanctions

By Richa Maheshwari


Despite overwhelming student support for anonymous medical transport, MIT has been unable to implement a system that complies with Massachusetts’ underage drinking laws.

Massachusetts state law prohibits possession of alcohol by anyone under age 21. Given the potential for disciplinary or even legal sanctions due to underage drinking, Students who need medical assistance due to alcohol consumption have historically been reluctant to call for help.

However, Interfraternity Council Risk Manager Andrew T. Yue ’03 said that changes to MIT’s alcohol policy represent a step in the right direction.

“The new policy has accomplished two goals. It promotes student responsibility [and] it also lays out the actual consequences of an alcohol violation,” Yue said.

Under the new policy, penalties for both first-time and repeat offenses will be reduced if alcohol violations are discovered as the result of a call for medical help. Sanctions for multiple offenses can include fines, formal complaints to the Committee on Discipline, and notes to parents.

Students still reluctant to get help

Yue said that MIT students continue to avoid calling for medical assistance for alcohol incidents. “Every weekend there are probably five or six incidents in which students do not go to Medical when they should because of fear of getting in trouble,” Yue said. MIT keeps track of the names of underage people taken to the medical center.

Under the new policy, first time offenders are no longer issued an MIT alcohol citation. The first offense will be treated as a medical rather than disciplinary matter. However, if MIT learns of underage drinking by some means other than a medical call, such as a noise complaint, “there may be disciplinary sanctions for the first event,” said Assistant Dean Carol Orme-Johnson, of the office of Student Conflict Resolution.

“Once students see how minimal the penalties are I don’t think they will take the risk not to call [MIT] Medical,” Orme-Johnson said.

However, Yue thought that students might still take their chances when reporting an alcohol offense, because the policy is not completely confidential.

“Sanctions for second offenses, which are quite rare, are designed to get the student to take the issue seriously,” Orme-Johnson said. However, Yue said that second time offenses are often not reported due to the stiffer punishments.

“It is really about responsibility and accepting the consequences for your actions. We want a student, or living group who makes one mistake to learn from that experience and not repeat it,” said Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict. “A student or house making a second violation, however, will be held responsible for that behavior.”

MIT forms alcohol safety group

Some 600 students signed the petition calling for anonymous medical transport last year. In response, MIT formed the Alcohol Education Work Group.

“Confidential medical transport was a small part of a scheme to address alcohol issues on campus,” said Undergraduate Association Vice President Allison L. Neizmik ‘02. “We went to the administration with our request for it, but we didn’t realize that there was a bigger picture.”

ILGs still face harsh penalties

In the case of fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups, Yue said, houses do not fear MIT as much as they fear the Cambridge Licensing Commission or the Boston Licensing Board. The two licensing groups can enact severe punishments for alcohol violations, including eviction.

Although MIT’s sanctions for living groups have not changed, they are now officially stated by the office of Residential Life and Student Life Programs.

“We have penalized living groups that violated the policy before, and these sanctions are in line with the sanctions we took over the last year. Now houses will know what to expect,” Benedict said.

However, IFC Judicial Committee chair Thomas B. Fisher ‘02 believes that the new policy represents a significant step in recognizing self-governance of fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups.

“The Dean of Student Life may defer to IFC and not impose sanctions on a house if he determines that the sanctions imposed by IFC are sufficient,” Fisher said