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Learning How To Drink

Not As Easy As You Might Think

Aditya Kohli

Seven-year-old Tommy has dreams of becoming a pilot. There are two ways he can achieve this goal. He could go to flight school and learn from a professional, or he could teach himself through experimentation. The former is the prudent choice. Imagine what a seven-year-old child would do with an airplane, a curious mind, and no formal training. Now, imagine what an 18-year-old college freshman would do with an abundant supply of alcohol, peer pressure, and no prior drinking experience.

There have been nine alcohol-related incidents on campus involving the MIT Police since Sept. 1, the majority involving freshmen. Abuse on this scale is no small matter, as it is not just a freshman feeling nauseous because he had one too many. The authorities are involved for a reason. These events reveal a serious glitch in MIT’s alcohol policies — they are mistimed and misdirected.

It is too easy to place the burden of excessive drinking on the backs of the fraternities, and it must therefore first be established that the heaviest freshman drinking is in fact not taking place at fraternities, but rather, in dorms. The majority of freshman alcohol abuse this year took place during Orientation — a time when fraternities were dry and prohibited freshmen from entering.

Logic follows fact. In a dorm, a group of freshmen will drink together. Many upperclassmen leave the dorms to drink, for many can go to bars and have friends at fraternities. Because all freshmen live in dorms, they drink in dorms. Especially early on in the semester, there are no other options for freshmen. Conversely, in a fraternity house, a group of both upperclassmen and freshmen will drink together. Freshmen cannot live in the house, so they would not be there alone. While there is no shortage of alcohol consumed at the fraternity, freshmen are surrounded by experience.

Unlike other activities (such as flying), drinking is not best learned through personal experience; freshmen need direction. “How much is too much?” is often a question without an answer for freshmen. A group of inexperienced drinkers putting away shots is not the best scenario. The solution is not a na ve and punitive measure to stop underage drinking on campus, for the inevitable cannot be stopped.

MIT understands this notion and has implemented an alcohol awareness program solely for affiliated freshman males. However, since about half of freshman males pledge, and about half of freshmen are males, only a quarter of the class is being trained with alcohol. Moreover, this quarter will be doing the majority of its drinking off campus, and it has already been said that the majority of dangerous drinking occurs on campus. The alcohol training program needs to encompass all freshmen.

In addition to a change in demographic, these programs need a change in timing. Currently the alcohol awareness program is held after Rush; it should be held during Orientation. The weeks of Rush and Orientation are essentially downtime for freshmen. There is no academic pressure and therefore there are no practical limits on drinking. A preponderance of alcohol incidents occurred during Orientation — a fact that needs to be addressed.

No matter how many awareness events MIT sponsors, we, as the Class of 2009 need to exercise caution. Listen to the clich d advice: call for help if you need to, don’t drink alone, etc. But also understand that MIT has relaxed drinking policies — you have four years to exploit them. There is no reason to do it all this semester. Know your limits; don’t push them.

Aditya Kohli is a member of the Class of 2009.