President Charles M. Vest and 112 other college and university presidents published a full-page newspaper ad on September 10 warning readers of the dangers of alcohol use on college campuses.
The ad, which appeared in 17 major newspapers across the country, including the Boston Globe, features a photo of a single bottle of "Binge Beer" (a fictitious label). Starkly worded text alludes to the consequences of binge drinking.
The National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC), of which MIT is a member, and the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities commissioned the ad last spring, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Barnes & Noble bookstores.
"We want to state very publicly that we believe that alcohol is a serious and difficult issue on every college campus in the United States," President Vest said last week. "We don't want to shy away from that fact. In particular, we hope the ad will engage parents. We hope to enlist them in preparing their children for the choices they will have to face in college. We also have to face the fact that for young men and women aged 18-21, alcohol is a deeply ingrained part of the culture, and that will be very difficult to change. But we have to try.
"We are approaching this problem in several ways, beginning with education. A number of experts have noted two effective educational tools to prevent alcohol abuse among college and university students. First is conveying an understanding of the physiological effects of alcohol on a person. This really seems to make an impression on these bright young people. Second is an understanding and recognition of the harmful consequences to others of the irresponsible use of alcohol. We want students to recognize that alcohol is at the heart of a number of other problems, including destructive and violent behavior," he said.
Noting that ad campaigns are only one approach, President Vest said, "We have to approach the problem from all directions. At MIT, in addition to enhanced educational programs, we have both stiffened and clarified our policies and sanctions related to alcohol use. We have taken strong measures in the past and we will do so again.
"Other measures taken over the past few years include tripling funding for student activities to provide for on-campus entertainment and social activities, resident advisors in the independent living groups as well as the on-campus residence halls, new training for graduate residents, and revised orientation programs for incoming students. And we continue to have a strong network of support services for all students."
In addition, he observed, MIT is in the process of "rethinking and revitalizing our entire residence system."
Regarding whether changes have been successful in reducing alcohol use at MIT, President Vest said, "While I have no hard statistical data, there are some early positive signs. Some fraternities are now dry, voluntarily or as a result of sanctions. There are no Institute funds used to provide alcohol at any functions sponsored by student groups. There are also new activities and new programming for orientation week."
All of MIT's actions are part of a "much deeper goal," President Vest said. "All of our efforts are aimed at creating a greater sense of cohesiveness and community. In the end, caring for each other is the greatest goal we can set."
A version of this article appeared in the September 15, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 44, Number 5).