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Students voice grief and concerns about alcohol

The MIT community mourned the deaths of freshmen Umaer A. Basha and Scott Krueger at a candlelight service attended by more than 100 students on Kresge Oval Saturday night.

The service concluded with participants recording their feelings in writing under the heading "Remembering Umaer and Scott" on a 20-foot banner unfurled across a folding table. A day earlier, the Undergraduate Association (UA) sponsored an event in Lobby 7 to discuss MIT's alcohol policy and its plans for building new undergraduate housing. Students wrote their thoughts on large sheets of blank paper that covered each of the two marble columns at the entrance to the Infinite Corridor.

The candlelight service, also attended by members of the faculty and administration, was co-sponsored by the Interfraternity Council and the Class of 2001. Speakers included President Charles M. Vest, Rev. John Wuestneck (American Baptist chaplain at MIT), freshman class president Pamela Mukerji, Robert Broderick (a junior in electrical engineering and computer science), and Senior Associate Dean Robert M. Randolph.

Ms. Mukerji told her classmates that Mr. Basha was so excited about studying biology at MIT that he bought the books required through his sophomore year and then built a bookcase to accommodate them. As a result, he acquired the nickname "Basha the Carpenter." She said that Mr. Krueger, who died of alcohol poisoning after collapsing in his room at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house, was "not just a news story--he was a real person." She concluded, "We grieve, we mourn, we cry, we console��������������������������� Tomorrow we must heal."

President Vest, his wife Rebecca at his side, thanked the students for their thoughts and their presence. "This has been terrible for us as I know it has been for you," he said. He invited the audience to "join us to build a better community."

"Scott's death should remind us that we have to care more for one another��������������������������� We can and we believe we want to do better," said Dean Randolph. "We are smart. The challenge is, can we become wise?"

In a letter to the MIT community distributed last Friday, Dedric A. Carter, president of the UA, called for a more comprehensive program regarding the use of alcohol, "a program that instills in every student the education and fear that is so necessary to avoid the terrors of alcohol abuse.

"When alcohol is equated with fun, we have a problem that requires a fundamental paradigm shift," he said. "It is up to us to determine when and where that paradigm shift shall begin."

The UA discussed alcohol policies and other matters at a meeting Monday night.

The students' written responses in Lobby 7 on Friday to the question "What do you think of MIT's alcohol policy?" expressed ambivalence about the role and effectiveness of the MIT administration and the campus police in relation to alcohol use.

While most students expressed self-assurance and a general confidence in taking more responsibility for their own and their peers' actions, some suggested the Institute itself should intervene forcefully when it came to alcohol use on campus. Forcing living groups to charge for drinks by the glass, creating a "dry campus" and deferring rush to the second term of freshman year were among students' suggestions.

Other handwritten responses expressed self-assurance, pride, cynicism and defiant jollity. Comments included:

"Stop problem drinking but don't take our freedoms away."

"The open policy fostered individual responsibility--rules will only cause people to rebel."

"Underage students will always find a way to get alcohol--especially MIT students who are good at finding ways to do anything!"

"The problem is over-drinking, not under-age drinking."

"Prohibition never works!"

"Lay off the hard liquor, kids, it's much harder to kill yourself with beer."

"How about alcohol ed for incoming students--we learn all about sex in high school but no one ever instructs us in the safe use of alcohol."

The second question asked in Lobby 7 was "What do you think about new dorms?" Generally, students valued what they had in diversity and in "mixed-class" living as well as a strong Greek system.

Their handwritten comments included:

"New dorms--NEED THEM!"

"We need more co-op little dorms like Random Hall."

"Whatever happens, DO NOT segregate MIT students by class. The support structure in place with upperclassmen and freshmen living together is very valuable."

"This has been needed for so long--why did it take a death to do it?"

"Why do you admit more students than you can hold?"

"New dorms--fine. Just don't think it treats the alcohol problem."

"Keep dorm choice!"

"We need to educate frosh more that this incident does not represent all MIT frats."

"People especially guys should not be pressured to join an ILG [independent living group] just because MIT doesn't have enough housing."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 8, 1997.

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