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Disciplinary action to be weighed after exams, Williams says

Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Rosalind Williams says disciplinary actions regarding the latest alcohol incident at MIT will be considered by the Dean's Office after the exam period is over.

At a news briefing last Thursday, Dean Williams praised the friends of the "visibly intoxicated" 18-year-old freshman, who called Campus Police at 3am on December 6 to have her taken by ambulance to the Medical Department.

"They did exactly the right thing," said Dean Williams, "and I'm very proud and happy that they responded as they did. Their first concern was for her health." The young woman was released the next day.

"We take it very seriously any time a student needs hospitalization for intoxication," Dean Williams said. The investigation at MIT is nearly complete, she added, and on the basis of the investigation, the fraternity involved, Sigma Phi Epsilon, has been suspended and barred from having alcohol in the house.

Later on Thursday, the new president of Sigma Phi Epsilon, Kevin Stange, a junior in mechanical engineering, issued a statement saying, "The fraternity recognizes and regrets the series of poor judgments that resulted in alcohol being present at a fraternity activity (attended by brothers, pledges and guests) in the wake of recent events and the alcohol ban imposed by the IFC presidents council."

On Saturday, the brothers of Sigma Phi Epsilon, at the urging of their alumni corporation, voted to make the fraternity permanently a substance-free house.

Dean Williams said Tuesday that she welcomed the statement of responsibility. "We will continue to work with the fraternity on investigating and responding to this incident, and we will discuss the chapter's future with the chapter, its alumni board and the Interfraternity Council."

At the news briefing, Dean Williams said she wanted to comment on the drinking incidents at MIT in relation to the resolution introduced in Congress earlier Thursday by Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-MA), who called on colleges to take a variety of actions to curb drinking. "We are really delighted that it was introduced and especially that it gives the problem of alcohol on campuses the attention the problem deserves," she said.

"We're in this for the long haul. We realize that no one is going to solve the problem of underage drinking or binge drinking quickly, that it takes a great deal of time to educate the community, and that disciplines and sanctions are only part of the answer."

Dean Williams noted that "the danger is of driving the problem underground or off-campus, rather than solving the problem. Therefore we have to keep the conversations going at MIT -- we have to keep talking to each other.

"I think we also need to remember to put this in perspective," she continued. "MIT is generally a very safe and healthy environment. We have a lot of students who don't drink at all, but we know that we need to improve our environment, and we appreciate this attention that's being shed on the problem by [the media] and by Rep. Kennedy, because it really helps us at MIT deal with alcohol on our campus more effectively."

Asked if she felt MIT was too much under the microscope, Dean Williams said the Institute was in the spotlight "more than most institutions. But we had a student die here this fall; we should be under the spotlight. And when I say I welcome the attention, I really mean it because it helps our students get a reality check in terms of what the world is like, what the laws are like, what the limits are, and how alcohol is in effect a national problem, a culture problem that we all have to deal with."


Asked about disciplinary actions, she said there are students who are under criminal investigation and "our disciplinary actions for those students must wait until the criminal proceedings are over. But we are certainly completely prepared to start our own disciplinary proceedings" at that point. However, she added, "we can take action for the fraternities, for the collective responsibility, and that we have done immediately. As soon as we have had a problem, we have addressed it."

Asked about the drinking incidents at MIT this fall, she said, "I think that if you looked at any campus in the area, you would find similar events regularly. And that's what I mean: MIT is not unusual. Each campus then has to address this in the best way possible.

"We are doing this through a combination of the high-level attention, the educational commissions, the review of policies, the individual sanctions, the fraternity sanctions -- the whole community has been involved all fall in a long discussion and thorough review of drinking on this campus.

"But I think it's quite clear now we are determined to impose sanctions when needed. Overall, I would like to get to a culture on this campus where binge drinking is just not acceptable and not done. But that will take a long time. So in a way I'm discouraged that more hasn't happened yet, but I think that this is the way the world works, and we'll just have to keep at it."

Dean Williams was asked whether she was concerned that students therefore might not call for medical attention for a dangerously drunken friend for fear of losing drinking privileges for their group. "We have to create a culture here where people will continue to do that [call for medical attention] and not be afraid to do that," she said.

"MIT as an institution is not alone in acting. The community at MIT includes the alumni of the fraternity, the chapter itself and the Interfraternity Council." The IFC has proposed a "three-strike policy," she added. "The first level is no alcohol at events, the second level is substance-free housing, and the third level is that you cannot rush freshmen."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 17, 1997.

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