IT'S FRIDAY night and you're ready to party. You roll into the Yard with some friends only to be greeted there by a vast empty silence that sits on the Freshmen dorms like a fat man on a playful puppy. You scan some Houses; Mather, Kirkland, Quincy. Nothing. The only signs of life are from solitary souls with loud tape-decks and pre-meds scurrying through the night for warm, secret places to study.
Then you find a centrex phone and make some frantic calls. You finally find the party. You hurry over to the House only to find five strangers desperately trying to have fun on tomato juice and Perrier. Someone breaks out the computer games. You don't wake up.
The party's over. The days of drinking are done. For years Harvard operated under the theory of in loco parents; your House Master could allow you to have beer just like Mom or Dad could. Now, with the drinking age being raised to 21, Harvard has gotten scared. The new legal limit encompassed a lot more students than the old legal limit. Harvard, instead of waiting to see if in loco parentis could hold up in court, has decided to enforce the new drinking age.
One could even infer that Harvard disagreed with the implementation of the old drinking age. Upperclassmen can remember the winks of proctors as they read you the rules and handed you a cold one. Before this year, no one could remember getting carded at a campus-wide party. Harvard's tacit disapproval of the drinking age has shaped campus social life and spawned the breed of social animal that needs alcohol to party. If Harvard wanted to enforce the drinking age, they should have been doing so all along. If Harvard wants to enforce the drinking age now, they should ease the campus into it.
ONE COULD WELCOME the new restrictions because they would cause the extinction of the party animal. Natural selection would replace this predator with the conversationalist, the type that goes to parties to discuss Sartre, or demonstrate some tricks he learned with MacPaint. Harvard parties would become more cerebral, more sophisticated. There would be a free exchange of ideas and opinions much like what took place in the Harlem Renaissance or in the Paris of Gertrude Stein. After all, a party is a party is a party. You only go to parties to meet people anyway. Do you really need alcohol to do that? Wouldn't Descartes do just as well?
It may be that alcohol takes away from the quality of Harvard social life. Maybe alcohol adds to the quantity of Harvard social life. Perhaps Crimson prohibition is a change for the better. However, what Harvard social life evolves into is not the point. The point is that Harvard fed the problem of underage drinking by not restricting it previously. Now Harvard changes its mind not because of a belief in the law but because of the threat of a lawsuit. The Harvard administration knew about underage drinking for a long time and chose to ignore and even contribute to the problem. Because of this the administration has an obligation to ease the student body into their new restrictions, rather than clamping them down immediately.
The Harvard administration should help support alternate ways of attracting people to campus-wide parties, now that the era of the open keg is over. Providing funds for live music is an example. The Talking Heads or The Del Fuegos would be acceptable substitutes for a styrofoam cup of warm beer. University support on the advertising of campus-wide parties would be another way of filling the alcohol void.
It is certainly not Harvard's fault that the drinking age has been raised. You can blame the screwed-up priority system of the Reagan administration for that one. But if that were the end of it, the Harvard administration would be under no obligation to act as a collegiate Alcoholics Anonymous, rehabilitating its underage students so that they may function at parties without booze. It is because Harvard bypassed the law for so long that it would be an act of hypocrisy to expect its students to go dry too quickly, and without help.