MIT president praises report on "dangerous drinking," announces search for head of alcohol program


CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Thursday, May 14 -- MIT President Charles Vest today praised a report on "dangerous drinking" and said he will implement one of its key recommendations by starting immediately a search for a high-level coordinator to deal with alcohol-related issues at MIT.

President Vest appointed the Working Group on Dangerous Drinking last fall to examine "binge drinking" following the death at an off-campus fraternity of an 18-year-old freshman, Scott Krueger of Orchard Park, NY. The 11-person committee, headed by Professor Phillip Sharp, head of the Biology Department and a Nobel laureate, and Dr. Mark Goldstein, chief of pediatrics and student health services at the MIT Medical Department, presented its report Tuesday to Dr. Vest and the Academic Council of deans and vice-presidents.

Dr. Vest said in a statement, "The Working Group on Dangerous Drinking has made a significant contribution by defining 'dangerous drinking' as the episodic and intense use of alcohol -- ranging from one intense and dangerous experiment to repeated episodes of intense use. MIT has a relatively low dangerous drinking rate, 23 percent of undergradudates -- about half the national average of 44 percent. However, a single instance of dangerous drinking can result in death, as has happened so tragically across the nation this year.

"I am starting immediately the process to find a qualified person to deal with alcohol-related issues at MIT. This person will serve in a senior administrative office and will develop, coordinate and implement a range of educational programs to change attitudes about dangerous drinking," Dr. Vest said.

Attached is the summary of the report discussed today at an MIT community meeting.

Summary
Working Group on Dangerous Drinking
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
May 13, 1998

The Working Group on Dangerous Drinking was formed by MIT President Charles M. Vest in late November, 1997 as the Working Group on Binge Drinking. It was charged with providing "focus and concerted leadership" in addressing the "problem of binge drinking and its direct and indirect detrimental effects on university communities." It was part of a three-point initiative which also included policies on underage drinking and on-campus housing and orientation of freshmen.

Binge drinking has been defined by Dr. Henry Wechsler of the Harvard School of Public Health, author of a national study on the subject, as "five or more drinks in a row one or more times during a two-week period for men, and four or more drinks in a row one or more times during a two-week period for women."

Dangerous Drinking and MIT

As an educational institution, MIT is concerned about the impact of such drinking on the safety of the students, on the community, and on the educational process. Nationally, about 44 percent of college students participate in dangerous drinking on a weekly basis. At some colleges, the rate is as high as 80 percent; at others, it is almost non-existent. At MIT, dangerous drinking occurs in both fraternities and residence halls and involves about 23 percent of the undergraduates, about half the national average. However, many MIT undergraduates infrequently or never use alcohol. A recent survey showed that 43 percent of all MIT undergraduates had not used alcohol in the past month, including 30 percent of undergraduates who have not consumed alcohol in the past year and 27 percent who have never used it.

Dangerous drinking frequently results in behavior that is detrimental to the academic environment: poor academic performance by the individual and inappropriate behavior within the community such as violence, vomiting, sexual and other forms of harassment, rape, and destruction of property. In a 1995 survey, six percent of undergraduates reported they were injured or hurt due to alcohol or other drug use, and five percent of undergraduates reported they had been taken advantage of sexually due to alcohol or other drug use. A single instance of dangerous drinking can result in the tragic death of a bright young person, such as Scott Krueger.

The Working Group, because of the concern about the danger of intense episodic drinking, adopted the term "dangerous drinking" instead of "binge drinking." For statistical purposes, the definitions are the same as the Wechsler definitions. Over time, MIT seeks to develop administrative and educational programs which will persuade students not to engage in dangerous drinking.

Individual and Community Responsibility

Drinking is a matter of both individual responsibility and community responsibility. MIT is a community that cares about its members. Any student who observes another student involved in dangerous drinking should feel a responsibility to discourage the activity and to help the intoxicated individual. If someone is sufficiently intoxicated to be either incoherent or non-responsive to physical or verbal stimuli, the emergency medical services must be contacted immediately.

Recommendations

The paramount values for the MIT community regarding dangerous drinking are the safety of community members, the value of education, and the establishment of programs for a safer social environment. After intensive discussion and review of published materials studying programs and techniques to combat the problems of dangerous drinking, the Working Group makes the following recommendations.

1. Develop an administrative structure and programs to strengthen education about dangerous drinking, and change MIT's social norms about this behavior.

An administrative professional position, with major authority, visibility and responsibility to address alcohol-related issues, should be established within the Office of the President or another senior administrative office that is senior to the various offices involved. This official would be responsible for developing, coordinating and implementing educational programs about dangerous drinking; establishing programs to change the acceptance of dangerous drinking at MIT; developing and taking responsibility for alcohol policies; developing programs to increase the likelihood that students with dangerous drinking problems receive counseling and treatment; encouraging research on the use of alcohol at MIT; and communicating within the Institute and with parents, city, state and federal leaders, groups and agencies regarding alcohol issues.

2. Reduce perceived barriers to providing medical care to dangerously intoxicated students.

The Campus Police have a dual role in providing Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) service in addition to law enforcement on campus, and there are several medical and safety-related advantages in maintaining a single rapid-response service. Safety and the protection of life are paramount. Consequently, when Campus Police or any other EMT service is contacted on behalf of a dangerously intoxicated person, MIT should grant "use immunity"- limited solely to alcohol citations and sanctions - to students and their living groups. Adherence to laws and rules will be encouraged through educational programs, MedLINKs training, and routine access or presence by MIT representatives in living groups (Recommendations 3, 4, 6 and 9).

3. Strengthen educational programs around dangerous drinking.

To change the social norms of drinking, there must be multidimensional and multi-layered educational programs beginning with a summer mailing to prospective freshmen and their parents and continuing with peer education in the living groups by upperclassmen, as well as Graduate Resident Tutors. A well-publicized web site should be a central point for health-related concerns, including avoiding "drinking games" and how to manage oneself and help an intoxicated friend in a dangerous drinking situation.

4. Require all living groups to have at least one resident who has MedLINKs training.

We recommend that MIT require all undergraduate residences to incorporate into their organizational structures at least one student active in MedLINKs, in order to educate their peers. For dormitories, which have more residents than fraternities, sororities and independent living groups (FSILGs), we recommend each dormitory entry or floor have a MedLINKs representative.

5. Enhance student social life on campus.

During the past few years, a significant fraction of the social life of MIT has involved parties with alcohol. These social events have recently become much less common. MIT might create in the Student Center a recreation space with juke-boxes, a grill, a dance floor and booths for casual meetings, and other spaces for social games such as billiards and cards, or develop a bookstore/coffee bar/restaurant as a social/intellectual center for students. MIT needs to encourage the re-appearance of large, campus-wide social events, bringing bands and other entertainment to campus.

6. Require all living groups that choose to engage in "Rush" to maintain an MIT presence.

If MIT grants a living group access to "rush" students, that living group should grant access to MIT personnel to monitor and if necessary, restrict dangerous drinking. This can be done through graduate or faculty resident advisors approved by MIT, or through inspection of central social space in living groups upon demand by MIT representatives.

7. Freshmen on campus.

The Working Group believes that requiring freshmen to live on campus would reduce that population's risk of being involved in dangerous drinking. MIT should continue to offer housing on campus to any freshman who wants it, and to any upperclassman who initially decides to live off campus but changes his or her mind.

8. Hazing associated with alcohol.

Hazing in any form is against MIT's rules and state laws. If MIT concludes that a student has either engaged in hazing that involved the consumption of alcohol or has first-hand knowledge of such activity and does not report it, the student or students should be subject to serious disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal from the MIT community.
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9. Continue to evaluate regularly the use of alcohol among MIT students.

In order to monitor effectiveness, the Institute should establish a system to survey students annually on their attitudes around alcohol.


Topics: Health sciences and technology, Campus services, MIT presidency, Students

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