Refunds to Encourage ResponsibilityLast fall, the weeks following Orientation were marred by nine freshmen alcohol-related incidents. Contrary to stereotypical beliefs, most of these incidents did not take place at fraternities — rather, the majority occurred at small unregistered room parties in dormitories. Parties are an integral component of campus life, and students will inevitably throw parties with alcohol. We believe that MIT should reinstate the alcohol policy that was in place before 1997, when students were permitted to use Institute funds to purchase alcohol for registered parties. While such a policy does little to curb the occurrence of underage drinking, it encourages responsible alcohol consumption.
The post 1997 policy was put in place by the Institute in response to dangerous alcohol consumption prevalent in fraternities in the years leading up to the death of Scott S. Krueger ’01. The Institute’s policy requiring that all freshmen live on campus and a more formal party registration system has helped fraternities overcome this issue.
Now the Institute must shift to dorm issues. Right now, dorm parties that are registered are monitored solely by the registrant. The administration knows that underage drinking happens, as evidenced by its adoption of a “no fault” alcohol policy; however, administrators often (and inconsistently) choose to look the other way when students drink, sometimes with deleterious consequences. In addition, dorm residents, including freshmen, continue to tap into residential social funds in order to sponsor wet room parties. Receipt swapping allows them to pass off alcohol as a mundane purchase such as juice or chips. By setting policy it knows will not be followed, the Institute ignores the real danger, which is physical harm caused by drinking irresponsibly.
If parties are registered with MIT, they can be monitored by MIT and the campus police, helping to keep abusive drinking to a minimum. However, given the current reluctance to register parties, incentives must exist for students to do so. As students ourselves, we feel that an administration-funded alcohol budget would be widely used. The more parties that are registered and use the alcohol budget, the safer the community. We understand the administrators might have reservations, but there are precedents for such an alcohol budget at Princeton, Yale, and Washington University in St. Louis.
The current alcohol policy is not sensible. Institute policy prevents upperclassmen over the age of 21, and thus thought to be more responsible than younger students, from using class or dormitory funds to purchase alcohol. In doing so, the Institute unreasonably punishes upperclassmen for the potential misbehavior of underclassmen. Furthermore, the Institute seems to prioritize some vices over others. Why is it that Simmons is allowed to hire exotic dancers using Institute funds, yet can not purchase alcohol with those same funds? While both events attract underage audiences, the Institute wholeheartedly supported the former while adamantly prohibiting the latter.
In its current state, the alcohol policy pits MIT students against well-meaning administrators. Students are less likely to approach a vilified administration in times of crisis. If MIT creates a more realistic policy, it would gain the trust of students and thus be able to play a larger role in controlling and moderating drinking on campus.
In many respects, undergraduates have presented the administration with a fait accompli, as they will consume alcohol regardless of any administrative policy. The extent to which an institution of higher learning should act as parents is an evolving national debate. With the Freshmen On Campus policy, it is clear on which side of the debate the Institute currently stands. How then, can the administration turn a blind eye to receipt swapping and other dodges? Student drinking is inevitable, alcohol-related deaths are not. MIT cannot continue to have different policies in principle and practice.
Michael McGraw-Herdeg and Marie Y. Thibault have recused themselves from this editorial.