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Groups Share Responsibility for Students’ Behavior with Alcohol

Guest Column
Steve Summit

In spite of the tremendous number of words which have been spilled about the alcohol situation since Scott S. Krueger ’01 died, some of the key issues remain elusive. We may be getting a little closer to one of them in a recent debate over where the responsibility for alcohol problems lies.

Jason Onysko ’98 accuses Bryan P. Adams G [“Our Collective Alcohol Failure,” Nov. 22] of missing the mark and poorly framing the problem, but I think Onysko’s analysis is similarly off-target. There is plenty of responsibility to go around; it needs to be shared by both individuals and institutions.

Certainly, individual responsibility is important. There are forces in society which seek to limit the dependence placed on personal responsibility, and I decry those forces, as well. But, no matter how responsible a given individual is, we all know that alcohol consumption is hugely driven by peer pressure. The need for identification with and acceptance by a peer group can trump, in a heartbeat, such mundane concerns as rules or societal norms or even self-preservation. None of the new rules or risk management policies or heightened concerns will make a single bit of difference if, down where the rubber meets the road and the EtOH meets the GI tract, three guys are saying to a fourth, “Heyyy, buddy, don’t worry about any of that, you can chug this, canchya?”

The question before us is whether the application of this peer pressure is also a matter of merely individual responsibility. Is it “individuals” or “the MIT community” who variously create, prevent, or fail to prevent “environments conducive to dangerous alcohol consumption?” The fact is, single individuals do not create whole environments. Environments are created by groups of individuals acting (or failing to act) in concert -- that is, they are created by organizations and institutions. So when we discover that there is a problem in an environment, that factors in the environment are urging the individuals within it to act in defiance of their individual responsibility, it is not at all improper to assign part of the responsibility for the situation to the organization which jointly created the problematic environment. That is why Adams is right when he calls on various organizations and institutions -- including house corporations and the Association of Independent Living Groups -- to take part in searching for, and accepting responsibility for, some new and creative solutions that might actually make a difference.

Steve Summit ’83 is the president of pika’s House Corporation.