An Undeserved Reputation

This year’s tailgate was safer and better organized than ever, so why did no one notice?

Don’t believe everything you read in newspapers. In the aftermath of the Harvard-Yale tailgate, the Boston Herald (among others) sensationalized that the tailgate had been a raucous mess, with arrests, drugs and unsafe drinking aplenty. But these reports were remarkably misleading and sometimes blatantly inaccurate. The various articles all focus on a private party in Allston—unrelated to the tailgates at all. “The police go to the door and there is no respect,” Captain William Evans, Boston Police Department (BPD) commander of the Brighton-Allston district, remarked to the Associated Press. “These kids could care less.” But “these kids,” which the AP erroneously labeled “Harvard students” were not, in fact, Harvard undergraduates at all—and the Harvard-Yale tailgates this year were not, in fact, especially debaucherous or dangerous.

No matter what members of the news media and BPD may say, this year’s tailgate was the safest yet. Although alcohol admits to University Health Services (UHS) doubled this year, we agree with UHS director David S. Rosenthal ’59 in attributing this increase to the medical tent on the tailgate grounds. By making it much easier than two years ago for students to seek medical attention, UHS did its part to ensure that students who drank unsafely were cared for efficiently. Indeed, unlike two years ago there were no urgent, life-threatening cases of alcohol consumption. While we are disappointed that, once again, a small percentage of Harvard and Yale students chose to drink irresponsibly, UHS’ handling of these unfortunate cases was exemplary. Couple the UHS tent with more supervision by Boston and Harvard police, and you had a tailgate that was better controlled and better planned in respect to safety than ever before.

Other parts of the tailgate shined as well. Harvard University Dining Services put on a well-organized and tasty barbecue that was much better thought out than two years ago. There were more lines for food this time, preventing excessive waiting time for hungry tailgaters. And although the Athletics Department banned U-Hauls and the College banned kegs from the tailgate venue, House Committees and student groups were given ample room, and ample though under-utilized beer, to make up for their loss, at least in part.

Still other parts of the tailgate were inexplicably poor. The obvious example—a severe underestimation of the number of portable toilets needed—led many tailgaters, male and female, to choose Mother Nature over a 30-minute line for a Porta-Potty to answer the call. The single entrance to the tailgate also created a massive and frustrating bottleneck, which was no doubt to blame for raising tension levels between students and BPD. With two years to fix crowd control strategy, we hope 2006’s tailgate will run much more smoothly. Finally, the ticketing system for non-student attendees was poorly publicized and inefficient. Many non-student revelers arrived at Ohiri Field only to be told to make the trek back to the Harvard Box Office; one entrepreneur nearly cashed in on the confusion and attempted to scalp tailgate tickets, but he was arrested (he also was not a student). Better communication and perhaps on-site ticket sales will be needed in the future to reduce headaches all around and ensure that alums and other partygoers are clear about what they need to participate in the festivities.

Beyond these ephemeral pluses and minuses at this year’s particular tailgate lies a chronic problem that will continue to plague future tailgates: alcohol policy. There is no question that some serious miscommunications between the Dean’s Office, the Undergraduate Council and BPD over expected attendance levels and alcohol policy led to some of BPD’s post-Game flare-up. Captain Evans seemed shocked by the perceived omnipresence of hard alcohol. “People were just carrying jugs around with Jack Daniels, vodka and tequila,” he said. But the presence of hard liquor at The Game was directly attributable to Harvard’s ill-conceived ban on kegs. As predicted, the official beer supply, funded in part by the council, HoCos and the College, was no substitute for private kegs. To be sure, we understand that the College cannot condone underage alcohol consumption, and thus it is unlikely to rescind the ban. But without the option of kegs at future tailgates, student groups and HoCos will continue to make the cost-effective choice and purchase hard alcohol for their private tailgate festivities instead.

Evans and BPD are far from seeing eye to eye with the College with regards to alcohol policy, and the division will surely deepen with time. Without question, the College’s main priority is student safety, and taking the most pragmatic, sensible (and legal) steps it can to ensure that safety. On the other hand, Evans has made clear his priorities are to crack down on underage drinking. Unfortunately, these dual priorities do not always line up. If Harvard and BPD do not reach a consensus on the right approach, Harvard’s future in Allston will soon become vastly more complicated.

This year’s tailgate doesn’t deserve the bad reputation it has acquired. The Boston Herald and BPD alike contended that 2004 marked new heights of drunken debauchery at the Harvard-Yale Game. But what they failed to see was the safety net underlying the celebration and the detailed planning that made this year’s tailgate the safest effort yet. Besides easily fixable problems like bathrooms and entrance lines, the problem with this year’s tailgate seems confined to particular individuals and their personal attitudes—be it consuming to dangerous excess or a single-minded obsession with underage drinking. In the end, Harvard-hosted tailgates for The Game will continue to suffer until authorities emphasize safe drinking instead of no drinking.

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