Alcohol Statement Disappointing
We had hoped that the recent tragedy at MIT would have yielded a productive dialogue between students and the administration here on the subject of drinking. Unfortunately, the Oct. 22 statement on alcohol, issued by Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 and Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III, can be described as a disappointment in this regard. The 16-clause decree is but a call for stricter enforcement of pre-existing regulations. It therefore fails to engage the core of the issue: social drinking is a deeply entrenched reality of College life which can be enjoyed responsibly, while peer-induced binge drinking can be extremely harmful to students' health.
One predominant example of an unhealthy attitude toward drinking occurs with students in final clubs--comparable to the M.I.T. students who join or visit fraternities. The spirit of irresponsible excess and macho bravado that seems flow through these clubs and societies promotes a culture competition in which the ability to down shots, guzzle beer and do keg stands is a proper measure of one's abilities.
The statement on alcohol released by Lewis and Epps ignores practical remedies that could alleviate many of the social ills associated with alcohol without cracking down unnecessarily on social drinking. While the reiteration of the College's immunity policy for those seeking medical attention deserves to be lauded, it should be formalized by real efforts to ensure that those who escort dangerously intoxicated students to University Health Services are treated with similar immunity and appreciation.
The College should also facilitate alcohol education by arranging times for peer groups to address first-years and upperclass students. The College would avoid liability for future behavior since the sessions would be run by students, while at the same time it would be furthering the goal of health education. Sexual harassment, while not contingent on alcohol use or abuse, is correlated therewith. We accept the statement of the deans on this point, but feel that such issues should also be discussed in peer sessions on alcohol and sexual violence, which is not now the case.
Finally, the College should avoid hypocrisy by amending its formal policies to reflect a more laissez-faire attitude. Students should know that dangerous behavior will always be vigorously prosecuted, but that a lively cocktail party will not be busted by crusading campus police.
What Harvard, Cambridge, Boston and the rest of the United States need is a policy of leniency. We hold that the federally imposed drinking age of 21 is misguided. If 18-year-olds are mature enough to act as full participatory members of our democracy, eligible both to select our leaders and to defend our borders in arms, then they are sufficiently responsible to imbibe alcoholic beverages. Further, a basic premise of American liberty is that freedom allows for the flourishing of virtue. Eighteen-year-olds should be allowed to develop temperate drinking habits under the sanction of the law. The current federal statute in this country--which restricts highway funding if states do not comply--does nothing to change the cultural mores of college students. It merely forces an entirely legitimate pastime underground. Finally, the Congressional law prohibiting campus administrators from taking a softer line toward responsible drinking is endangering students by driving elicit drinking even farther from those who might provide help.
Clearly, the laws of this country, and accordingly those of this state, are not going to change any time soon. Nevertheless, the enforcement of those laws is within the joint discretion of the College and the City of Cambridge. When on-campus alcohol consumption occurs within responsible bounds, the administration ought simply to avert its eyes. Please note that this suggestion has an historical precedent. Former Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 publicly stated during his tenure that the drinking age should be set at 18, and he acted on this conviction by presiding over an enlightened regime of lax enforcement. Incidentally, during this time not one Harvard student died as a result of alcohol use.
We hope that the Administration will pause to consider a more reasonable approach to the issue of student drinking. The dangerous elements of students' drinking are byproducts of the degraded social scene. The College needs to formally promise responsible students who are trying to ensure the safety of fellow students that they will not be penalized. Moreover, we reiterate our firm belief that the current form of the finals clubs is unhealthy and should be abolished. We look forward to the day when we can raise our glasses in a toast to a campus alcohol policy which encourages safety and maturity, while disavowing the more destructive elements associated with drinking.