After a week in which the idea of early admissions dissolved before our eyes, it was comforting to be reminded that no matter what changes in Cambridge, Harvard still doesn’t know how to party. Unfortunately, once every two years, that fact endangers one of our most beloved traditions — and their students as well as ours.
The duties of hosting the Harvard-Yale game are back in the Cantabs’ court this year, and as usual, they listened to the jester. Four years ago, it was a ban on kegs. Two years ago, a laundry list of poorly thought-out regulations — designed ostensibly to limit student drinking — accomplished precisely the opposite, provoking the ire of the Boston Police Department. This year, there is to be no alcohol whatsoever in the “authorized student tailgate area,” to which alumni of Harvard, at least, may purchase tickets. This may be the most ridiculous idea to come out of Cambridge since Larry Summers started talking about innate differences between men and women in the sciences, but one thing is certain: In trying to solve a serious problem, Harvard has only succeeded in making it much, much worse.
In 2004, Harvard’s attempt to address the problem of student drinking — a long list of rules that included a limit on the volume of alcohol individuals could bring to the tailgate, a ban on U-Hauls and mandatory ID checks at the kegs, which only the Harvard Undergraduate Council could buy — made it painfully clear that the goal was discipline, not health or safety. And just as the News predicted, the results reflected that fact: 29 students were ejected from the tailgate, 32 underage drinkers had their names taken down by the police, and at least 25 students were hospitalized, more than double the 2002 numbers. Concerned about punishment rather than safety, more students drank too much too fast, and were less willing to seek help until they were forced onto stretchers.
Included among Harvard’s new rules are those that Yale imposed during last year’s game: an end to the tailgate after halftime, and a ban on drinking games and sitting on trucks — arguably the most obvious dangers. Coupled with understanding from local police, this policy ultimately served as a reasonable and effective middle ground; those who needed help found it. But anchored to the rest of the new Cantab protocols, this middle ground has become scorched earth.
It seems obvious that this policy move is largely an attempt to placate the Boston Police Department, who worked The Game for the first time in 2004 and were shocked that it was not the “low-scale event” that BPD Capt. William Evans said he had been led to expect. In light of the sheer absurdity of this claim — that the Boston police had no idea what they would see — we can sympathize, to some extent, with the Harvard administration’s difficult position.
But Harvard still must recognize a fact that Yale has long understood: In dealing with excessive student drinking, safety has to come first. Harvard officials cannot possibly believe that their policy will be sound or effective — that students who are determined to drink heavily will be dissuaded by their draconian regulations. And they have to know that, if these rules remain unchanged, they’re going to need more ambulances this year.