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Colleges unite to fight binge drinking

President Charles M. Vest and 13 other presidents of local universities were joined by Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Boston Police Chief Paul Evans on Monday at Northeastern University for the formal signing of an inter-campus agreement by 24 Boston area colleges and universities to reduce binge drinking and underage drinking among students.

In the most comprehensive effort of its kind in the nation, the agreement sets universal baseline standards for educational and social programming, discipline, community networking and training.

"This agreement marks the beginning of a new level of collaboration among colleges and universities," said Northeastern University President Richard M. Freeland, who chaired the year-long planning effort spearheaded by the Boston Coalition's Task Force on Underage and Problem Drinking, in cooperation with the Boston Higher Education Partnership. The Boston Coalition is headed by John P. Driscoll Jr.

"By joining forces, by enlisting students, parents, alumni, liquor store and bar owners, and local police officials, we can mount an effective campaign to change attitudes about drinking and what constitutes acceptable behavior both on and away from campus.

"We can't discipline our way out. We can't legislate our way out," said Mr. Freeland.

President Vest, who was interviewed individually by many reporters after the morning ceremony, told them that the 14-page agreement represented "phase two of the battle against dangerous drinking." Referring to Scott Krueger, he said that no other event in his years at MIT had affected him personally more "than the loss of this fine young man." He said attitudes toward drinking on campus had begun to change in the year since Scott Krueger's death in September 1997, that the death had shocked the MIT community, and that students have shown leadership on this issue.

The pact says that as part of a comprehensive approach involving staff and peer training; intervention, counseling and discipline; annual evaluations; and networking with community liquor stores and police departments, the colleges will:

  • Promote and increase alcohol-free programming for underage students
  • Prohibit commercial delivery of alcohol to first-year student residence halls (this provision or others apparently were misinterpreted by the Boston Globe, which inaccurately reported Monday that the agreement encouraged "alcohol-free housing"
  • Hold students responsible for their behavior both on and off campus
  • Hold fraternities and sororities to institutional standards
  • Develop specific action plans within athletic departments to decrease alcohol use and abuse among student athletes
  • Involve students, parents and alumni/ae in designing programs that foster a healthy campus community
  • Provide ongoing training and support for residence hall staff in their roles as counselors and monitors
  • Provide on-campus alcohol awareness programming, counseling and related services
  • Encourage the development of peer support services and programs for off-campus and commuting students
  • Provide enhanced training and support for peer educators
  • Continue to prohibit sponsorship of campus events by the alcohol industry
  • Encourage faculty to identify students who may have problems with alcohol and equip professors and other instructors to intervene appropriately
  • Work to control alcohol sales and consumption at athletic events, and
  • Increase cooperation between public safety departments and local law enforcement agencies.

Duane Dreger, president of the MIT Interfraternity Council, was one of two students who addressed an overflow crowd of about 150, including administrators, students, nine TV cameras and about 20 reporters.

"The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Interfraternity Council, representing 38 fraternities and sororities in the Boston, Cambridge and Brookline communities, applauds and fully supports the recommendations in the Cooperative Agreement of the Boston Area Colleges and Universities," Mr. Dreger said.

"This past year has seen many dramatic changes on the MIT campus. I believe that many members of the Boston Coalition can learn from MIT, as we all can and must share the lessons that we have learned. Perhaps the most important lesson that the MIT Interfraternity Council has learned concerns alcohol-related policies. In order for such policies to be truly effective in a student environment, the following must hold:

"1) Student leadership must be involved in both the design and the enforcement of the policy. Without the student leadership of a college or university supporting a policy, there will be a lack of positive peer pressure to conform to the new regulations. We all remember the difference between getting advice from a friend and being told what to do by our parents.

"2) Education must act as an agent of change in the students' culture. The MIT Interfraternity Council has taken several steps to foster alcohol awareness. We have doubled the amount of alcohol educational programming during freshmen orientation. If a fraternity or sorority wishes to hold an event with alcohol, that group must first take part in a rigorous certification process that involves alcohol education programs on alcohol physiology, guidelines for safe alcohol use, and the potential consequences of dangerous drinking.

"3) The community must acknowledge that time is required for any culture to change. Only a year after the new policies have been in place, the vast majority of students have adapted to the new regulations and are consequently socializing in a safer, more responsible atmosphere."

William DeJong, director of the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drugs, said about the 24-college pact: "I've seen similar initiatives in Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, but this group has brought this kind of work to a new level. The agreement is not just a statement of general principles, but a blueprint for effective action in reducing students' high-risk drinking."

Attending the ceremony were the presidents of 15 colleges and universities: Bentley College, Berklee School of Music, Boston College, Brandeis University, Curry College, Emerson College, Emmanuel College, Lesley College, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Sciences, MIT, Northeastern University, Simmons College, Tufts University, the Urban College of Boston and Wheelock College. Harvard University was represented by Dean Archie Epps.

Other colleges involved are Aquinas College, Bunker Hill Community College, Massachusetts College of Art, Regis College, Salem State College, Suffolk University, Wellesley College and the Wentworth Institute of Technology.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 9, 1998.

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