In the wake of a tragic Harvard-Yale tailgate, Yale’s administration pledged to review its policies on tailgating. The results of that review, released yesterday, include regulations for future tailgates that will ensure nothing like that day’s accident happens again: U-Hauls will be banned and student tailgates will be held in a vehicle-free area. Those are necessary changes.
But the administration also announced two other rules that actively undermine student safety instead of protecting it: No kegs allowed at all and no tailgating after kick off.
These latter regulations seem tailored to protect Yale’s public image above all. The U-Haul that killed Nancy Barry in November was carrying kegs. Media coverage of the event focused on that fact and the debauchery it implied.
Kegs had nothing to do with the accident, which occurred long before kick off and with a sober driver at the wheel of the truck. But banning kegs and shortening tailgates sends a message: Yale is responding to the accident and all the negative attention that came with it. These two measures do not demonstrate the sensitivity we would hope to see in responding to the complex task of balancing safety, the tradition of Yale tailgating and our public image.
At best, these two new changes will merely curtail some festivities. More likely, they will create an unsafe environment in which students binge drink even more. Without kegs, students will likely turn to hard alcohol. They will drink more quickly in the shortened time allotted for tailgating.
If the University simply wanted to demand tamer tailgates, it could have banned alcohol altogether. But kegs were specifically implicated in November’s scandal, so kegs will no longer be allowed. On their surface, Yale’s tailgates will look less debauched. Kegs are conspicuous symbols of consumption. Flasks are not. But one is more dangerous than the other.
There will not be another Yale tailgate for nine months. It made little sense to rush to announce these policy changes now, before the police have even completed a forensic investigation of the crash. The administration could have taken more time to talk to more of the people these changes will directly affect. Instead, it chose to follow in the footsteps of Harvard, Princeton and other peer institutions that have adopted similar policies. Banning kegs and shortening tailgates might be a trend, but it isn’t a wise one.
Barry’s death was a freak accident, but it presented a good opportunity to reevaluate existing policies. Dedication to safety is always worthwhile. But adopting two extra rules that will all but eliminate tailgates is a misdirected effort.
In the narrative of improving safety after last year’s crash, it might be easy to lose sight of the real purpose of tailgate regulations. The administration’s top priority should be to guarantee its students’ safety while promoting the spirit of celebration. It is instead trying to refocus the fallout from a horrifying tragedy to improve its own image.