We will remember last week’s Harvard-Yale game more for tragedy than for victory. At 10:30 a.m., as students were still arriving at the pre-game tailgate, a U-Haul driven by a Yale student accelerated into a crowd. The truck hit three women before it ran into another U-Haul. One of the women, Massachusetts resident Nancy Barry, died as a result of the accident; another woman was seriously injured. This horrifying tragedy has caused many to think hard about what regulations universities should impose on students at events like the annual Harvard-Yale tailgate.
Although the accident was not determined to be the result of alcohol consumption, allowing U-Hauls in a space crowded with people drinking and partying always has the potential to end in disaster. Harvard banned U-Hauls at its Harvard-Yale tailgates in 2004. Although the main justification for the ban was the costly damage large trucks did to athletic fields, Harvard administrators also worried about the safety of students dancing on top of U-Hauls during the tailgate.
The conversation about safety restrictions at tailgates is very important but also very complicated. Students should certainly criticize tailgate regulations that they deem unnecessarily strict or ineffectual, but it is important to recognize that these rules exist for good reason. Lenient policies or lax enforcement of regulations can lead to unfortunate circumstances and tragic accidents. On the other hand, tightly controlling students’ ability to drink alcohol can drive them to pre-game in their own rooms or off-campus houses, often resulting in students drinking large quantities of alcohol in a dangerously short period of time more than standard tailgate imbibing would have them do. Harvard must continue to navigate the tight pathway between allowing students to enjoy themselves in supervised and school-sanctioned tailgates and ensuring the safety of all game attendees.
Tailgates are by nature disorganized and difficult to control, and accidents can happen in any environment when excitement and nerves are high. Unfortunately, even the most carefully crafted tailgate rules cannot account for all eventualities. Many factors that university-imposed restrictions don’t influence or take into account can influence tailgate safety, and rules that are effective at Yale may not be relevant at Harvard. For example, a longer distance between tailgate and stadium may discourage students from heading back in the middle of the game to continue drinking, causing them to drink more before the game begins. Because of the many factors involved, we recognize that although this freak accident might have been prevented by banning U-Hauls at the Yale tailgate, such a rule will not prevent all possible future accidents.
Tailgating the Harvard-Yale game is a time-honored tradition for the students and alumni of Harvard and Yale, and for many, the tailgate is inextricable from The Game itself. Harvard must recognize that students will inevitably enjoy the Harvard-Yale game in traditional fashion; tailgate regulations should serve to ensure safety, not prevent students from enjoying themselves. Yale has historically done a good job planning its tailgates to be enjoyable and inclusive while ensuring the safety of game attendees.
This year’s accident was undoubtedly just that, but it does serve as a reminder that regulating tailgates well can be extremely difficult. As our thoughts go out to the family and friends of Nancy Barry, we hope that her tragic death will lead to more careful and considerate tailgating in the future.
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