Six MIT students, interviewed by Cable News Network last week about binge drinking, all said drinking was a matter of individual responsibility for college students.
CNN, as a follow-up to an interview with Dr. Henry Wechsler on his new binge drinking study, interviewed a half dozen students at random who were sitting on the steps off the Student Center. The interviewer asked such questions as why do people binge drink, is it still going on, whose responsibility is it, and have you seen changes at MIT since a year ago?
All the student comments were interesting to bystanders at the Student Center. Here are some of them.
Carolina Tortora, a junior in aeronautics and astronautics who lives in the co-ed #6 Club at 428 Memorial Drive, commented, "Where I come from, in Italy, people begin to drink alcohol at age eight. There's no prohibition against it. So they're used to it by the time they are in college, and no one feels they have to drink just because they suddenly have the opportunity."
An unidentified freshman wearing a National Forensic League sweatshirt said binge drinking "hasn't been that much of an issueï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ There were plenty of letters sent to our homes. It would be hard not to know about it [Scott Krueger's death]. The environment here is very different from other campuses. People are much more serious." As to who's responsible, he said, "Since you're here and on your own, you have to watch out for yourself and watch for others also."
Rachael Butcher, a senior in nuclear engineering from Denver and a #6 Club resident, said people binge drink "to show off to their peers. It's not hazing, or fraternities, it's more peer pressure on who can out-drink each otherï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½. The administration has done a lot. They've really cracked down on drinking. It's been like a dry campus. Houses that want to serve alcohol have to be recertified. We haven't been recertified. With all the media attention, people are scared to bring alcohol into the house."
Ed Curtis, a first-year graduate student "from California originally," said of bingeing: "Some people will always do it. Drinking is fun. Probably people who drink to excess are having some issues in their life they're dealing with." Can the university control it? "To some extent, probably." Who is responsible? "By the time you're in college, you're really old enough to know what you're doing."
Aisha Stroman, a junior in electrical engineering and computer science from Hanover, MD, living in New House, said she didn't drink, but binge drinking still goes on at MIT. "Now people don't drink in the open; it's more in their own roomsï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ I don't think people know how to drink in this country. People don't understand about drinking too fast, that you should eat while you're drinking. It's the parents' responsibility to teach their child. My parents talked to me. They said 'You don't need to drink a lot. If you use alcohol, and I would rather you didn't, just taste it'ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ I don't really think it's MIT's responsibilityï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ I know better than to get drunk.
"People are more aware now. A lot of people didn't know you could die from drinkingï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ MIT put out a lot of pamphlets, talking about how fast alcohol can affect you, and I think during Rush, there were special seminars but I'm not sure because I wasn't thereï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ I came to MIT because they treat me like an adult. I choose where I live, there's no curfew. I'm responsible."
Jesse Davis, a freshman and Sigma Phi Epsilon pledge, said "I'm not a binge drinker. I don't think it's due to peer pressure but personal choiceï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ The administration did definitely let us know about itï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ the Scott Krueger story. There was a lot of education -- a lecture and seminar in freshman orientationï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ My house is dry. We can't have any alcohol until February and maybe never again. The administration is cracking down. It seems to be working. I was served alcohol here before the incident took place. It's much different now than it was then, both in the frats and the dorms."
As to who's responsible for students binge drinking, he said, "If they continue to drink, it's their decision."
The CNN story used two quotes from students. The unidentified freshman, asked why people binge drink, said, "It's the first touch of independence, being away from home, being somewhere when your parents aren't watching. And I guess it's a little bit exciting."
Ms. Tortora, when asked whether things were different this year, said, "You're just more careful, because all of a sudden, it's a reality -- you really can die [from] drinking."
The CNN story also quoted Rosalind Williams, dean of students and undergraduate education: "We have really revamped freshman orientation, put a lot more emphasis on education about alcohol."
CNN's reporter in New York, Dr. Steve Salvatore, closed with this comment: "The decision to drink or not to drink depends on the individual. Experts say if students want to drink, they will, regardless of the rules. The answer lies in what universities provide: education."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 16, 1998.