This is the first year in MIT history where all freshmen are required to live on campus, but while the practice is new, the idea is not. The Potter Report of 1989 proposed mandatory on-campus housing for freshmen, but student outrage kept off-campus doors open to freshmen. When the idea surfaced again, student voices could not be heard over the din from beyond MIT.
The administration must now realize that it has been fooling itself, and others, about preventing another alcohol-related fatality with mandatory on-campus housing for first-years. Despite the new policy, freshmen are still living in fraternities, and there is nothing the administration can do about it.
After Scott S. Krueger ’01 died following a pledge party with heavy drinking, housing freshmen on campus seemed more attractive than ever to the MIT administration. President Vest himself wrote to Krueger’s parents when MIT settled their lawsuit, saying, “Scott’s death galvanized us to action. It impelled us to greatly intensify our consideration and accelerate our actions with regard to alcohol, our housing system, and other issues of student life and learning.” He was talking, in part, about freshmen on campus. On a Web site entitled “What MIT Has Done to Curb Alcohol Abuse,” the phrase “Freshman on Campus” is a prominent item. A committee studying dangerous drinking endorsed the move as a step toward providing a safer environment for freshmen. Whenever questioned by the media about making MIT a safer place -- which happened regularly in the years after Krueger’s death -- the administration almost always cited freshmen on campus as a key initiative.
In the new Rush, freshmen join fraternities and independent living groups a few weeks into the semester. Did the administration honestly believe that freshmen, after pledging, would never set foot in their fraternities for parties or overnight stays? Most fraternities have empty beds, and since MIT is paying them 80 percent of the fixed cost of those beds, why not invite freshmen over to stay at the house?
The administration’s logic regarding dangerous drinking and freshmen on campus seems to be this: Scott Krueger died from drinking in a fraternity. Scott Krueger was a freshman. If freshmen are not in fraternities, they cannot die from drinking in fraternities.
The flaw in the administration’s logic is that you cannot keep freshmen out of fraternities, no matter where they live on paper. Fraternities have parties, and freshmen are friends with upperclassmen regardless of brotherhood. MIT can not possibly expect to ban first-year students from setting foot off-campus, let alone enforce such a draconian rule. Who would come to a university with such a policy? Moreover, did administrators really believe that there would be no pledge parties for freshmen? Surely the Institute has not forgotten already that Scott Krueger died after a pledge party.
A dormitory room might provide refuge from an alcohol-soaked pledge incident, but it is naive to rely on dorm rooms down the road or across the river for safety.
While the administration can justifiably tout some of the benefits of housing freshmen on campus, it can no longer claim that keeping freshmen “officially” in dormitories will prevent another irresponsible underage drinker from dying. Administrators might consider delaying the pledge period until the end of freshman year, or even the beginning of sophomore year. However, this delay would not physically remove freshmen from fraternities, nor would it provide an environment conducive to the pledge numbers MIT so desperately needs to comfortably house all its students.
In truth, the best ways to prevent another Scott Krueger from appearing on the cover of Newsweek are what MIT has been doing all along -- enforcing a more responsible alcohol policy, educating students from their first day on campus, and setting a good example through the residential advisor program. Certainly, there is more to be done, but the administration needs to be honest about how the campus scene has changed since 1997 -- just ask any alumnus from the Class of 2000 or earlier what “work hard, party harder” really used to mean.
Is the MIT community stronger now that freshmen live on campus? Perhaps, but only time will tell. Is MIT completely safe from another Scott Krueger incident with freshmen living in dorms? Hardly -- the administration must face facts and be honest about the reality of housing freshmen on campus.