Tuesday morning I woke up to a heavy brief from the News in my Facebook feed: “86 Sig Ep members sued over 2011 tailgate.”
Two new lawsuits address the collision that cost a woman her life at the Harvard-Yale Game in 2011 — when a U-Haul driven by Sigma Phi Epsilon’s Brendan Ross ’13 killed Nancy Barry, a visitor from Massachusetts, and injured two other women. The accident has faded from memory in the last two years. As a freshman, I hadn’t even heard of it before the News covered the story this week. But the two new lawsuits draw campus attention back to the changes in tailgate policy implemented since the 2011 tragedy.
Though a spokesperson for Ross affirmed that the 2011 accident was the fault of a vehicle malfunction, the tailgate environment was immediately called into question: Yale’s tailgate policies had previously been notoriously looser than Harvard’s, according to reporting from the News. An atmosphere of kegs, hard alcohol and student-driven trucks, though not necessarily dangerous, certainly increases the risk of harm. It’s unsurprising to me that school administrators decided to ramp up tailgate restrictions in the following years, following Harvard’s lead in banning kegs, trucks and hard alcohol. The decision to contain the tailgate within a demarcated “village” seems a logical precaution as well.
It seems strange to me, then, that there was ever opposition to the increased restrictions. Yet there was plenty of backlash, documented in interviews and op-eds in the News. Student reactions ran the gamut from mildly disappointed to legitimately concerned for tailgate attendance. The latter reaction begs a few questions in my mind: Were kegs ever really the main draw for Yale students to attend the Game? Has a major school spirit tradition been diluted to just a habitual occasion for drinking? And do students really value the presence of hard liquor over the prevention of future tragedy?
This year was my first time attending the Harvard-Yale Game, and I, like plenty of students, made it to the tailgate. It never occurred to me that the celebration faced a decline in attendance, or a lack of enthusiasm or a dearth of alcoholic beverages — the crowd was massive, attendees looked thrilled and the ground seemed a mosaic of aluminum cans. Attendees spilled across two tennis courts, moved among tables of more-than-enough food, gathered with friends and danced. And still, students who experienced pre-2011 tailgates express dismay that the restrictions and the kick-off deadline dampen the party experience.
That attitude, though, has no place in the realm of the tailgate, a social gathering that promotes school spirit and community. This doesn’t mean the party cannot or should not feature legal drinking, loud music and free-spirited fun. It simply means that an attitude of fellowship, including concern for one another’s safety, should prevail.
Who are we to demand excessive drinks, space or vehicles when these minor inconveniences might prevent future harm? Though a vehicle malfunction might be the direct cause of a woman’s death, the tailgate environment — particularly the inclusion of the U-Haul truck that killed Barry and the kegs the truck was transporting — cannot be ignored. The memory of a tragedy in the legacy of The Game is a painful one, and we should be willing, if not eager, to make a few sacrifices in the name of public safety.
As the Sig Ep lawsuit plays out in court, it serves as a brutal reminder that the families of Barry and Sarah Short, one of the injured women, are still suffering from the consequences of the tailgate accident. That’s enough to make me certain that a few restrictions on our tailgate festivities are worth the inconvenience. They just might save a life.
Caroline Posner is a freshman in Berkeley College. Her columns run on Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.