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Students at MIT cite the tragic death of Scott Krueger in 1997, as well as steps taken by the MIT administration, as critical forces for dramatic changes in the social life and culture in the 10,000-student community.
"Scott's death made me want to make sure that none of my friends would ever die from alcohol again as long as I know them," said Damien Brosnan, who is president of the Interfraternity Council (IFC). "That's why I became the IFC Risk Manager in 1998."
"Scott's name is still a presence," said Matthew McGann, a senior in management and president of the Undergraduate Association last year. "People refer to his death as the impetus to changes in lots of things: alcohol policy, campus activities and housing," he said.
Mr. McGann's first year included "keg parties, happy hours and house taxes spent on alcohol," he recalled. "But in September 1997, everything screeched to a halt. The change in campus life was dramatic."
Mr. McGann, who lives in a Dorchester apartment, commented, "Students have more of a bottom-up approach to building community. The administration works from the top down. You need both to make changes."
Mr. McGann cited the tripling of student activity funds, including establishing a pool of money for campus-wide events such as Homecoming and the upcoming Douglas Addams lecture, and the appointment of Chancellor Lawrence Bacow, as examples of effective administrative actions.
He also cited Fall Festival, Comedy Collage and changes in Orientation as signs of new life at MIT.
Other students agreed that MIT has changed dramatically.
Mr. Brosnan, the IFC president, recalled: "Basically MIT was a school that cultivated and reveled in a policy of 'work hard, play hard.' People were loosely aware of the dangers of excessive consumption of alcohol, but they had no first hand experience of exactly how damaging alcohol could be. The attitude that FSILGs and MIT had toward underage drinking was far more nonchalant three years ago."
Social life at MIT, he said, has changed "in every way imaginable since 1997. MIT was no longer the 'place to party,' as it was before my friend's death. It became a dead social zone."
"My house, Delta Tau Delta (416 Beacon Street, Boston), was the first FSILG to have one of these new alcohol-free events, and it was clear by the rather small attendance at the event that we and MIT had given up large amounts of social capital for increased alcohol awareness and vastly improved risk management policies," said Mr. Brosnan.
"This is lamented by some, but praised also by many. I think that the sacrifice of 'fun' pays homage to the memory of my close friend Scott and shows that some of us took everything positive that we could from his death," Mr. Brosnan said.
Rebecca Grochow, a senior living in the Alpha Chi Omega sorority at 478 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, said, "The number of big parties has declined, but they have not ceased to exist. Alcohol distribution at these parties is well-monitored and controlled; students are better monitored by their peers."
Andrew Yue, a sophomore living in the Kappa Sigma fraternity at 407 Memorial Drive, described MIT as having changed "drastically since now we are under the 'scope by media, MIT administration, police and licensing boards who jump at every little incident."
As for their own and their friends' attitudes towards alcohol and drinking, several students declared that Mr. Krueger's death did have a significant effect. Ms. Grochow said, "Nothing changed in students' actions, but it made us more aware of the dire consequences."
Mr. Yue said he became "much more aware of liability issues and safety issues on how to take care and watch out for others."
Helen H. Lee, a sophomore in chemical engineering living in the Alpha Phi sorority at 479 Commonwealth Ave. in Boston, commented, "It makes everything seem a little more 'real.' Everyone knows the consequences of dangerous drinking, but nobody believes that it can happen to him or his friends until it actually does."
Ms. Lee also said, "I don't think that there is any way to keep college students from drinking; it's a part of the culture of college students.
"The effect I would hope that Scott Krueger's death would have, though, is to teach students to drink more responsibly, and when that does not happen, to take care of each other and make sure they get the proper medical attention," said Ms. Lee.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 20, 2000.