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What About Democracy?


By Matthew J. Mcdonald

WE COULD ARGUE for the preservation of Adams House's traditional, unique atmosphere or speak of the great pleasures of a cigarette as a footnote to many a fine event. We could go on and on and on...

Our main point of contention with the staff position lies not in an advocacy of smoking but in the patronizingly undemocratic implementation of the Adams House smoking ban. While claiming to represent the cause of health and protect non-smokers from "the tyranny of the majority," the staff position ignores the facts surrounding the ban. In her letter to Adams House residents, Allston Burr Senior Tutor Janet A. Viggiani admits "that the current smoking arrangements do not work; simple observation has also confirmed that they are often ignored. Furthermore, we are not in accord with either the letter or the spirit of the Harvard regulations."

The Cambridge smoking law of 1987 and University policies resulting from that law attempt to create rules whereby the rights of the "passive smoker" may be respected. If University policy had been followed, there would most likely have been no need for an outright ban on smoking in the Adams dining hall. Harvard rules pertaining to dining hall smoking clearly state that if a house decides to allow smoking, smoking and no-smoking zones "should be clearly designated by signs..."

While there was some attempt at this early last semester, at no time were permanent signs posted to remind smokers where they were and were not allowed to smoke. In fact, as recently as yesterday morning, no signs were visible anywhere in the dining hall.

While most smokers were aware of which tables were for smoking, not all were (smokers from other houses who ate interhouse at Adams, for example) and sometimes even Adams smokers forgot exactly which tables were which. But whenever smokers were reminded they were smoking in a no-smoking section they unfailingly complied with the (hazy) regulations and moved to the smoking section.

Once it became apparent that some smokers were breaking the rules, intermediate steps could and should have been taken to reduce complaints. First among these, of course, could have been posting signs. If the draconian penalties instituted by Viggiani (the third instance of smoking in a no-smoking area merits a trip to the Ad Board) had been implemented before, the number of smokers in no-smoking sections would probably have been reduced to nil. As it was, no attempt was made to reduce abuses of house rules between unclear regulations and a complete ban.

While we would not call Viggiani's implementation an "Orwellian nightmare," it is nevertheless paternalistic and destructive. Holding forums, encouraging discussions of negotiating compromises among residents could have made all parties aware of one anothers' concerns and placed choice and responsibility in residents' hands.

To assume that Harvard students are incapable of such communication is counterproductive to generating a sense of house community or, indeed, an effective policy.

Instead, Viggiani's decision to rely solely on her "simple observations" and deny residents any part in the decision-making will only increase resentment, frustration and alienation between smokers and non-smokers, between students and administrators.

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