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Vest urges community to fight alcohol abuse

President Charles M. Vest today called on students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni/ae to take the responsibility and develop the will to succeed in a fight against binge drinking and alcohol abuse.

"I firmly believe that it is time for all of us at MIT to bring our talents and resolve to bear in the fight against alcohol abuse and the unfortunate and frequently tragic effects it has on all those in the community," he said in a statement to MIT Tech Talk. "I reject the thought that we cannot succeed," Dr. Vest said (see full text below).

The president's statement came as the Working Group on Prevention of Binge Drinking, co-chaired by Professor Philip A. Sharp and Dr. Mark A. Goldstein, was being formed. The membership is expected to be completed by the end of the week. Meanwhile, a newly formed 11-member committee on Orientation/Residence Fall '98 held its first meeting last Thursday.

Members of the Dormitory Council and the Interfraternity Council prepared draft suggestions on alcohol and housing problems that are being posted to the Alcohol and Campus Environment web page. Developments also can be followed on the News Office home page, and a special page on alcohol-related news.

The complete text of Dr. Vest's statement follows.

"During the month since the death of Scott Krueger, our community has engaged in intense discussion of the use of alcohol on our campus, especially the issue of binge drinking. This has occurred both formally and informally, in large groups and small, among students, faculty, parents and alumni/ae. In addition, I have had the opportunity to speak with my presidential colleagues from more than forty campuses around the country. I am deeply concerned with what I have learned, and I firmly believe that it is time for all of us at MIT to bring our talents and resolve to bear in the fight against alcohol abuse and the unfortunate and frequently tragic effects it has on all those in the community.

"This problem can only be solved collectively. All of us, students, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni/ae, must develop a shared sense of responsibility and a shared will to succeed. And, frankly, I look in large measure to MIT's students for the necessary leadership.

"I reject the thought that we cannot succeed. Our society has made real progress on seemingly insoluble problems: Smoking and drunken driving in America have been reduced substantially. Transmission of the HIV virus has dropped. Diet and exercise in large segments of our populace have been improved. In every case, change has been brought about because we have gained a deepened understanding of the negative consequences, for ourselves and others, of inappropriate and unhealthy behavior. All of these efforts to improve our lives have proceeded one step at a time, and all are continuing processes. All have required individual and collective leadership. We can and must make a difference.

"It is clear that binge drinking among college students has reached unprecedented levels. Campus after campus reports students purposefully ingesting alcohol for the sole purpose of becoming stone-cold, passed-out drunk. Students here and elsewhere are increasingly fed up with the abusive behavior and language, physical illness, violence, and sexual misconduct that all too frequently accompanies unreasonable levels of drinking.

"The oft-stated view that inappropriate drinking at MIT stems from a unique set of pressures and is needed to escape the rigors of our intense education is nonsense. Those who behave this way are simply going with the flow -- mimicking the worst behavior on campuses of every type. We can do better.

"Moralizing will get us nowhere. But we can learn and work together in true MIT fashion to do what we do best -- solve a seemingly insurmountable problem. And this problem indeed is very difficult and complex. Drinking behavior stems from peer pressure, societal values, family matters, social interactions, self-image, and the messages and images that surround us. Inappropriate drinking behavior sometimes begins well before arrival on campus.

"We need to bring about cultural change and new peer expectations on these matters. Prohibition does not work, and binge drinking cannot be legislated out of existence. But we can set community standards and expect each other to adhere to them. We can look into the mirror and determine if we are acting wisely. We can insist that others not trample on our rights to a reasonable living and learning environment. We can gain personal and collective resolve to resist thoughtless pressure to abandon common sense.

"The Working Group on Prevention of Binge Drinking, co-chaired by Professor Phillip A. Sharp and Dr. Mark Goldstein, will help us make progress on this front in a determined, focused way. This faculty/student/staff group, consulting with local and national experts, will survey what is known about binge drinking, its causes, and its prevention. Their goal, by the end of this academic year, is to produce new approaches to education and changes in the campus culture that will minimize alcohol abuse, and particularly binge drinking, among our students.

"At the same time, I have asked a small working group to make a detailed review of current policies and procedures to determine their appropriateness and effectiveness. That group, headed by Associate Provost Phillip L. Clay, is expected to report shortly.

"In addition, we are entering into a variety of discussions with other campuses and with members and agencies of the communities of Boston and Cambridge.

"All of these activities are aimed at providing the tools, framework and context for the kind of problem solving and leadership for which MIT is known. If we all -- students, faculty, and staff -- roll up our sleeves and work together, we can make a real difference. Together we can analyze the problem, develop creative approaches, and make a better living and learning environment for us all."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 5, 1997.

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