Pre-Game Dangers

Stricter drinking rules will make for a much more hazardous tailgate

This fall, as hundreds line up to go through security checks and present their IDs, officials will be targeting a new source of danger: liquids. Transatlantic flight? No—it’s the Harvard-Yale game, albeit with new, improved College rules for underage drinking, the result of College negotiations with the Boston Police Department (BPD). The College has declared that, this year, students and student groups will no longer be allowed to bring any alcohol to the official tailgate at Ohiri Field; the only source of merriment will be spiked hot chocolate and beer served to students 21 and older with ID at three College-sanctioned stalls. If you’re visibly drunk, don’t even bother trying to enter: You’re not welcome.

Unfortunately, this focus on law enforcement comes at the cost of underage student safety since, quite simply, a ban on private alcohol does not mean that underage drinking will not happen. Instead, drinking will be shifted forwards to pre-game binges in the privacy of student dorms, where underage revelers will likely imbibe as much as they deem necessary to keep them merry throughout the Game. Worse, this kind of pre-gaming will be more common among underclassmen, namely new freshmen with relatively little experience in drinking safely, who are less likely to know their own limits.

In contrast, last year’s game at Yale saw a relatively open alcohol policy, where liquor was carried and consumed under the protective, not skeptical eye of police and security officers. The usual mix of age groups at House Committee (HoCo) and student group tailgates meant that students were able to keep an eye on one another. Perhaps not coincidentally, the 2005 Game also marked a sharp drop in the number of students treated for alcohol-related problems (from 50 in 2004 at Harvard to 30 in 2005).

These one-day-a-year rules depart from the College’s normally sensible alcohol policies, which primarily emphasize safe drinking and specifically avoid punishing those who seek medical help when dangerously drunk. With BPD on the hunt for drunkards, however, dangerously inebriated students (and their friends) will be less likely to look for official help, compelled by the fear of expulsion from the tailgate or arrest. The harshness of the tailgate’s policy will only serve to erode trust between students and officials, thereby eliminating any safeguards against dangerous underage drinking.

We hope, and truly believe, that in negotiating these rules University Hall does have students’ safety in mind and would, if possible, opt for less stringent (and therefore safer) tailgate rules. But the College has had to formulate a policy that will pass muster under the watchful eye of Boston officials, whose permission is required to serve alcohol within Boston’s city limits. The BPD is taking a hard stance this year after its displeasure with the 2004 tailgate, when BPD Capt. William Evans called student behavior there “a disgrace.” But the BPD doesn’t seem to realize that this kind of alcohol policy does not stop students from breaking the law; it just causes more students to endanger themselves through reckless, covert drinking.

This hard stance comes at the same time as BPD’s “Operation Student Shield,” introduced in 2005 specifically to combat underage drinking in Boston. And if BPD’s experience with Boston College, Boston University, and Northeastern University are any indication, students can expect harsher enforcement as Harvard expands undergraduate housing into Allston. We hope instead that BPD will reconsider its methods, and keep safety as its priority even while it must continue to enforce drinking laws.

Furthermore, the usual efforts must be made to ensure minimal disruption to those not partaking in the Game’s many festivities. The College should work extensively with BPD and the Harvard University Police Department to ensure that crowd flows make logistic sense and to protect locals’ property from any possible collateral damage. (A few extra portable toilets would be nice, since the shortage at the 2004 tailgate created a bit of an undesired spectacle.) Students, in turn, should keep in mind that they are not the only residents of the Boston area and keep their shenanigans to College property.

Although we have substantial concerns about the safety of students at the event—not to mention concerns about the tailgate’s overall success sans the usual alcohol—we’re not yet ready to write off the entire day. Unlimited free food and non-alcoholic drinks will again be available, a success from the 2004 Game, and the alumni party will continue unaffected on the Soldiers’ Field parking area. But if the College and the BPD can’t reach a more reasonable agreement on a tailgate across the river, then the Undergraduate Council and HoCos ought to start brainstorming alternative tailgate ideas. (The MAC Quadrangle, for example, immediately jumps to mind as a smaller, though plausible, tailgate location.) If anything, Harvard students are known for their inexhaustible ingenuity, and we ought to be able to knock heads together to come up with something a little more palatable and a whole lot safer. If the BPD thought they saw a lot of students get carted off Ohiri Field in ambulances in 2004, they’ll be shocked this year when they see the lineup waiting to get in and out of Johnston Gate. And drunk or not-so-drunk, we’ll all be able to enjoy watching the Crimson beat up on the Bulldogs for…wait, how many years in a row? We’re losing count…