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In the past six months, the Harvard administration has made itself perfectly clear: “college” is cancelled. The combination of underage binge drinking, uncontrolled hazing, and unhindered irresponsibility that has produced generations of great Americans has met its untimely end, at the hands of a pack of lawyerly dweebs.
The freshly-minted Class of 2012 may have been obscenely selective, but its members will curse their own good fortune when, as sex-starved sophomores, the absence of new transfer admits will lead to a complete lack of fresh meat. They will spend their senior year morosely re-reading their high school yearbooks and listening to the 2012 equivalent of Evanescence while sitting in the dark with the shades drawn. They will wonder why Harvard administrators thought it was OK to convert their suite’s bathroom into a double. They will grin and bear the pain of using the floor as a desk, since the College will have sold off their dorm furniture to pay for bigger touch-screens in the dining halls. And they’ll smell terrible, since Harvard will have shut off their shower to conserve water and make the campus “greener.” But at least they will have four glorious years in Harvard Square, that mecca of neighborhood banking and tortilla-wrapped fast food.
Yes, the quality of student life at Harvard has been viciously attacked these last few months. But what will be the most profoundly damaging to the undergraduate social fabric is the administration’s new war on any Harvard student’s last line of emotional defense: alcohol.
On Jan. 31, asking for neither forgiveness nor permission, the College introduced a litany of strict new rules on partying, and on the hooch that makes it all worthwhile. House Committees will henceforth not be allowed to serve hard liquor at their Stein Clubs, residents won’t be allowed to advertise their private parties, and gatherings in dorm rooms will have to be registered with resident tutors up to three weeks in advance.
Those halcyon days of my sophomore year, replete with plastic gallon bottles of Cossack gin in the Junior Common Room, will soon go the way of Lobster Night, House pride, and Allston residents. In their stead, undergrads will get long nights of nursing Natty Ice and making awkward small talk with creepy graduate students—euphemistically styled “Beverage Authorization Teams”—who will soon be a mandatory part of every tea social on campus.
Thanks for the memories, Harvard.
But what’s been considerably more disappointing than Harvard’s turning off the tap is the pathetic indignation of undergraduates. After so many years of getting away with breaking the law, we seem to have forgotten that drinking underage is generally frowned upon in this country.
At any other college, this kind of crackdown would be met with moping, retaliatory alcohol abuse, keg-laden protests, and general dissatisfaction. But this is Harvard, a college full of students smart enough to rationalize just about anything. With new regulations looming, our peers have clung to what scant justifications for laxity they can find.
Especially precious is the assertion that making it harder to drink underage will make undergraduates less safe. Take the G&T’s out of HoCo events, the argument goes, and we’ll all flock to all sorts of unsavory off-campus locales—from final clubs to private houses to the Dudley Co-op—to get trashed, far from the safety net provided by House tutors and the Harvard University Police Department.
This sort of claim comes out of desperation, not contemplation. Ignoring for the moment issues of capacity—it’s unclear just how many more party-goers Harvard’s final clubs might accommodate before the Cambridge Police Department comes a-knockin’—it’s also unfairly apocalyptic to believe that just because undergraduates are drinking to extremes off-campus, as opposed to in their dorm rooms, they will be any less willing to seek medical attention in an emergency. (“Oh no! Jane has stopped breathing! If only we were in a dormitory, so a resident tutor could have the presence of mind to call for help!” does not seem an especially likely scenario.)
What Harvard needs is not a lax drinking policy, but a renewed commitment to breaking the rules. Administrators, tutors, and the like have gone soft in recent years, and frankly so have we. Drinking before one’s 21st birthday, long a secret indulgence, has been stripped of its thrill as liquor has flowed freely across the College.
The situation has become so dire that now we feel unspeakably wronged when the administration takes away our liquor-filled pacifier. Rather than hurl accusations of depraved indifference and malice at our superiors, however, we ought to relish in our crime. That old prep school watchword, “don’t get caught,” can at last make its triumphant return to Harvard’s campus.
No one in University Hall actually believes that undergrads will stop drinking once the rules are changed. The new “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to student debauchery comes out of a desire not to be completely screwed-over the next time the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office has a slow work day, not a plan to turn the lot of us into teetotalers.
It’s not totally unreasonable to think that every category of House tutor and College administrator will soon be found lurking in the shadowy corners of our dorm rooms, waiting for us to break the rules. It is, however, pretty damned unreasonable to think so. And it’s equally unreasonable to think that a real crackdown is underway. Don’t get caught, in other words, but if you do get caught, chances are you won’t be sent home early.
In a perfect world, Harvard would be able to turn a blind eye to underage drinking, and focus on reducing the various harms that come from it. But Harvard isn’t in Canada and the Dean won’t soon be playing bartender. But the latest policy changes are hardly the end of fun at Harvard. They also don’t spell a drier campus, or a more dangerous one. If anything, breaking the law ‘round these parts just got a little more exciting.
Adam Goldenberg ’08 is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.
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