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The Entitlement of Harvard Partyers

By Michelle I. Gao
Michelle I. Gao ’21, a Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is a Government concentrator in Adams House.

A lot of behaviors that once seemed generally acceptable have been reexamined in recent years. We no longer, for example, accept the excuse that “boys will be boys.” But college students, supposedly, should be allowed to be college students who drink and party even until they end up in hospitals or handcuffs. This is an inevitability that should be accepted, not firmly resisted or even gently questioned.

This view has been made clear in the aftermath of a well-publicized incident following last year’s Yardfest on April 13, when a College student — naked and likely under the influence of narcotics — was arrested by Cambridge police officers just off-campus. The incident sparked debate around many issues, including police brutality, a topic that deserves to be addressed comprehensively elsewhere. Here I will focus on how the involvement of the Cambridge Police Department, rather than just Harvard University Health Services or the Harvard University Police Department, demonstrated that something in the University’s management of students’ drug and alcohol usage had failed. During last year’s Yardfest, a day known for high levels of student intoxication, Harvard did not handle everything thrown its way.

The natural next step is to look for solutions. The main line of student-proposed solutions, however, has looked outward. Buy an ambulance. Hire more health services workers. Reform the police. These might indeed help students, but they’re fundamentally missing the mark. Why should the solutions come from elsewhere when the problem is coming from within — from the students themselves?

No, these student-proposed solutions are egregiously entitled. They all require more people (and more money) to clean up our messes. They all imply the lesson from a mishap is that these other people need to shape up.

The police, in particular, are singled out as the student body’s favorite targets. HUPD’s duty is to protect us. But come on — their job should not be to attend to blacked-out undergraduates, and we should try to make their lives easier. (The reason why HUPD could not respond to calls regarding the arrested student on the night of Yardfest, as protesters argued they should have, was that they were overwhelmed by the number of student emergencies already reported.) HUPD is not perfect, but we expect a level of perfection from them that we do not ask of ourselves — not even close.

Why do students support these external solutions rather than inward ones? Because they argue that college partying is inevitable. Thus, all Harvard can really do is be there to make the process safer.

Now, some level of enabling is desirable. Let the University continue to turn a blind eye towards the harmless behavior. I’m libertarian enough to believe that you should do what you want — as long as you can take care of it yourself. It’s college. And I believe in second chances enough to support some sort of amnesty policy.

But too much enabling emboldens the receiving party to demand more and more. In the aftermath of the April 13 incident, students have for the most part refused to accept responsibility. Instead, at any hint that they are part of the problem, they cry foul.

In his November 2018 email to the community about the review committee’s report on the April 13 incident, University President Lawrence S. Bacow wrote he was “troubled” by the upward trend in student intoxication at Yardfest. Yardfest health incidents were over five times higher than the previous year’s and overloaded two nearby emergency rooms. I took Bacow’s words as a reasonable — yet far from harsh — reminder that, if nothing else, students should be mindful that their actions can deplete valuable resources that are inherently finite.

But this Editorial Board called even Bacow’s small rebuke “missing the mark.” Any mention of students’ wayward behavior was supposedly a distraction from the underlying incident — though such behavior was the very catalyst.

Students also feel like they should be entitled to the broadest possible amnesty policy. This Editorial Board, for example, pushed back when Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana recently raised the prospect of reconsidering the amnesty policy. The Board argued that a stricter policy will be harmful by only reducing the number of people who seek help, not how much they use. It calls on the College to “prioritize student safety.”

Again, as if prioritizing student safety is something only third parties can do. The questions remain: Why should students deserve amnesty at all if they know exactly what they’re getting themselves into? Or, less harshly, why shouldn’t Harvard restrict the amnesty policy and force students to prioritize their well-being, or at the very least their good standing in college?

Something is seriously wrong when we can’t even acknowledge that we have a problem — of which overflowing hospital rooms or arrests are just symptoms. Something is seriously wrong when students feel entitled enough to demand that the University must indulge them, instead of reasonably curtailing their lifestyle choices. Because the kinds of behavior in question aren’t inevitabilities; they are choices. And in adulthood — a title we love to claim for ourselves in seemingly any other situation — we shouldn’t be entitled to anything except to face the consequences of our choices.

Michelle I. Gao ’21, a Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is a Government concentrator in Adams House.

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