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MacGregor’s Space And Alcohol Policies

Jolene Singh

Students who live in dorms have long prided themselves on having more freedom to do as they wish than at FSILGs, where weekends and evenings are scheduled away, house-related duties and chores are doled out, and parties are strictly patrolled and regulated by MIT Police. However, as MIT moves to reduce dangerous drinking behaviors on campus, dormitories are becoming less emancipated.

At MacGregor House, for instance, the House Committee has been struggling to come to terms with the classification of its high-rise suite lounges as common areas. Decrowding made the suite lounges available as places where suitemates could study, eat, or congregate, greatly increasing the quality of life and helping to facilitate students in finding space to work or socialize within their living group. All of these suite lounges can be locked and only suitemates have key access to these areas. In September, the MacGregor student government agreed that since key access was shared by six to eight people, these lounges could be viewed as private--areas accessible by a limited number of people.

However, declaring high-rise lounge areas “private” would exempt residents from having to follow the standard alcohol event registration procedures for parties. In August, administrators and GRTs began to debate whether MacGregor’s closed lounge areas were truly private areas or shared common spaces--areas accessible by many within the dorm. According to Katherine G. O’Dair, Associate Dean for Residential Programs, there is a need for consistency in understanding the differences between private, public, and common space within the campus dormitories. And as MIT tries to construct a better alcohol event registration process, all dormitories have been scrutinized more closely.

As a result, there have been many disputes over whether lounges accessible by multiple dormitory residents should be considered common or private areas. Before MacGregor, East Campus was told that though a limited number of people possessed key access to each living group, parties with alcohol held in “common space” areas would need to be registered according to the existing procedures. However, spaces shared by fewer people in Baker House are considered private. After a tour of the MacGregor high-rise building, O’Dair and Daniel Trujillo, Associate Dean for Community Development and Substance Abuse Programs, concluded that access to high-rise suite lounges is not sufficiently limited to warrant “private” status. “In reality,” O’Dair commented, “almost all the lounge doors are left open, accessible, at least, to the whole floor, and it is more appropriate to view these areas as common space--areas accessible by many in the living group.”

So on Wednesday, Nov. 19, Dan Kirsch, Residential Life Advisor, informed the MacGregor House Committee that its high-rise suite lounges could not be considered private spaces. Hence, socializing with alcohol in the high-rise suite lounges is prohibited unless students have registered such get-togethers as alcohol-related events. Monday night football in the lounge with the guys (all over 21, of course) and a beer or two can no longer occur spontaneously, but must be planned and registered long in advance. The guidelines also indicate that underage friends must be wrist-banded whenever alcohol is present or the hosting students will be subject to fines and/or serious disciplinary consequences. Of course, students may still host parties in their “private” rooms without officially registering alcohol use.

Immediately concern arose about the consequences of making MacGregor’s closed lounge areas “public” space. However, O’Dair assures students that there is no movement to re-characterize these lounge areas as public. Safety being of primary concern, access to dormitory space from all public areas is restricted by card readers. So the TFL (Tastefully Furnished Lounge) and MacGregor Convenience can be seen as public space, in the sense that MIT-affiliated groups may reserve TFL space for an event and anyone can shop at the MacGregor Convenience Store. Also important, no new policies or changes have been made in the way dormitories operate or are currently organized. Essentially administrators are now beginning to communicate the nuances of the existing alcohol event registration process to dormitories; therefore, drinking in almost all shared spaces will have to be registered in the future.

As O’Dair states: “We are trying to communicate clearly what our procedures are so that everyone knows and understands them. We also acknowledge that our event registration process needs review and we will work, primarily with Dormcon, on that.” As the Institute reviews and clarifies its policies to create processes that students will find fair, accessible, and easier to understand, the need to communicate its intent more directly and more consistently with students will be necessary to avoid confusion and/or misinterpretation of its efforts.

Jolene Singh is a member of the class of 2005.