Drug, alcohol, hazing policies undergo major modifications

Revised policies relevant to many aspects of student life

On Aug. 26, Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo emailed all MIT students to announce changes to the Mind and Hand Book, a set of guidelines and rules that apply to undergraduates and graduates. The alcohol and drugs and hazing policies were updated significantly, while minor changes were made to other policies, including those on sexual misconduct.

Some of the most significant changes include a ban drinking games, modifications to what was previously called the “Good Samaritan Policy,” prohibitions on certain drugs not prohibited by state law, a stricter policy against social sharing of drugs, and a broadening of the Institute’s definition of hazing. The edited policies were produced by a working group of administrators over the course of more than a year after consultation with many student groups and other bodies on campus to collect feedback on drafts of the policies.

Alcohol Policy

The updated alcohol policy newly forbids “engaging in drinking games or other activities involving rapid and/or excessive consumption of alcohol on campus or in Institute-approved housing.”

On the rationale for the new rule, Associate Dean and working group member Judy Robinson told The Tech that during drinking games “people tend to drink faster and more volume, so it’s a health and safety concern,” adding that the policy “is a fairly standard practice at most institutions.”

Also newly prohibited is alcohol distributed from a “quantity dispensing source” like kegs or punch bowls, except at registered events.

According to Robinson, fraternity, sorority, and independent living group governing bodies and parts of the MIT administration would handle enforcement of the ban on drinking games and other relevant regulations. She emphasized that the working group itself was only responsible for writing, not implementing, the updated policies.

The updated policy also states, similarly to the previous version, that serving or selling alcohol is prohibited in all circumstances except those explicitly allowed by MIT’s official policy on the use of alcohol (i.e. registered events in the case of student sponsorship). The new version does make an exception, however, for “small social gatherings (usually considered to be 15 guests or fewer) at which alcohol is served to individuals over the age of 21.”

Robinson said that the updates to the policies regarding registered events were not made to correspond with a separate social gathering policy introduced last week to FSILGs, which includes new requirements for registering events.

Practices for Seeking Help

While the term “Good Samaritan” is no longer used to describe the policies for seeking medical attention for those experiencing dangerous effects of alcohol, the section outlining practices for seeking help during alcohol-related emergencies says, “MIT will treat the situation as a health and safety matter, not as a disciplinary incident” if help is sought. The limitations of the policy and the actual guidelines for how to call for help remain unchanged.

The list of Institute-imposed sanctions, however, newly states, “The sanctions of disciplinary suspension and disciplinary expulsion will be strongly considered… when a student has failed to summon medical assistance for someone she or he knew, or reasonably should have known, to be in medical jeopardy due to alcohol or substance use.”

Notably, the possibility of sanctions for failing to call for help, but not protection from disciplinary action, apply to medical emergencies involving drugs other than alcohol. Robinson said the goal of this modification was “to remind people that the expectation is that you get help for somebody in need” and to provide clarity on the matter for students unsure of whether they should call for help.

Robinson and Director of Student Citizenship Kevin Kraft met with members of Dormitory Council (DormCon) multiple times to collect feedback on drafts of the policies. In public minutes from a December 2013 meeting, several students raised concerns that the difference between the treatment of alcohol and other drug-related incidents in the policy could lead students to use drugs in secret and/or under more dangerous circumstances. The minutes quote Robinson as saying that those concerns must be balanced against making sure the Institute does not condone drug use.

Leonid Grinberg ’14, a student quoted in those minutes, told The Tech, “If there’s negative pressure that I can’t know about [drug use] because I don’t want to get in trouble, all that creates is lack of knowledge,” adding, “It’s one-sided in that it just removes liability in an artificial, almost legalistic sense without adding safety.”

Robinson said that the working group had received feedback both for and against including incidents related to other drugs among those treated as medical rather than disciplinary matters in the seeking help protocol. “We will continue to look at that in the coming year, but people need to know that the expectation is that you get help for somebody,” she said, adding that the fact that someone called for help may be taken into account if Committee on Discipline sanctions were considered after a drug-related incident.

Other Drugs

Before the recent updates, the Mind and Hand Book’s policy on drugs other than alcohol primarily referred to state and federal laws, stating that the use, sale, and distribution of illegal drugs was also against Institute policy.

New in the revised version, MIT extends the prohibition to “substances that are generally recognized as dangerous and detrimental to the individual and community, even though they may not be illegal,” referring to these as prohibited substances. It lists whippits (nitrous oxide cannisters), 2-C’s, NBOME, research drugs, Spice, K-2, and non-prescribed performance enhancing drugs as examples of such substances.

According to minutes from October and December 2013 DormCon meetings including Kraft and Robinson, students raised concerns that the definition of prohibited substances was too vague and could create unclear expectations for students.

When asked by The Tech what process would be used to determine if certain drugs might become prohibited in the future, Robinson said, “I think that will depend on… what the trends are, not just in the MIT community but in general,” adding that the drugs listed in the policy are examples rather than an exhaustive list of those prohibited.

“Those drugs might not be scheduled or illegal at this moment in time, they may be down the road. But regardless of illegal or not, what we do know is that there have been issues for some of our students around those drugs,” adding, “With health and safety a priority, we wanted to be clear with students.”

Also newly introduced to the policy is the following: “MIT prohibits persons from permitting the use of prohibited substances, as noted in this policy, in one’s residence.”

Robinson said that some universities prohibit students from being in the presence of others using drugs illegally. She said that the working group initially proposed that regulation, but decided after hearing feedback from students to change the policy to its current form. “You’re responsible for what happens in your room.” She added that organizational-level issues with allowing drug use could also result in an organizational response.

According to DormCon minutes, students also raised concerns to Kraft and Robinson that this aspect of the policy might unintentionally incentivize students to use drugs alone or in more dangerous ways. Grinberg told The Tech, “Any amount of drug use is safer with more people present and more people not using that drug present,” noting that it would be much easier for students to get help in such situations compared with using drugs alone.

New to the list of Institute-imposed drug sanctions is the statement that disciplinary suspension and expulsion would be “strongly considered” for students found responsible for violating policies against “the sale, distribution, or social sharing of prohibited substances.”

Robinson emphasized that MIT’s policy on the matter is not limited to students selling drugs for a profit.

“Social sharing is a form of distribution, and we don’t want drugs distributed on campus,” Robinson said. “So it’s not just about if you are collecting money in exchange for drugs, but it’s about if you’re distributing drugs to anybody.” She added, “I might be sitting with a group of five friends and sharing or I might just have given drugs to somebody down the hall from me. Neither are ok.”

While the possible sanctions are significant, Grinberg said that he expected the prohibitions on the social sharing of drugs to be implemented in a “common sense” manner and added that he would be “surprised and disappointed” if students were suspended or expelled as a result of, for example, using a small amount of marijuana in a group.

The updated policy also clarifies that MIT’s policies against marijuana are not affected by laws lowering penalties for, or decriminalizing, its use in Massachusetts. It cites the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which requires compliance with federal prohibition on marijuana, among other laws, for the Institute to continue to receive federal funding.

For these reasons, medicinal marijuana continues to be prohibited on campus or at Institute-sponsored activities. “The reality is federal law trumps state law… Even though the Massachusetts law is different we have to keep that policy in place, but we involved Student Disability Services in that conversation as well,” Robinson said, referring to the policy on medicinal marijuana.


MIT’s policy on hazing before the recent updates was primarily a restatement of Massachusetts state law on the subject. It identified hazing as conduct that “recklessly endangers the physical or mental health of any student or other person.”

The new policies broaden the definition to include “[a]ny action or activity that causes or intends to cause physical or mental discomfort or distress, that may demean, degrade, or disgrace any person.” It goes on to provide examples of hazing in three categories of increasing severity.

The policy defines subtle hazing as “behaviors that emphasize a power imbalance between new members and other members of the group or community”, listing deception, silence periods, deprivation of privileges, social isolation, name-calling, and unequal assignment of chores or duties as examples.

Examples of harassment hazing, or “behaviors that cause emotional anguish or physical discomfort” are listed as verbal abuse, implicit or explicit threats, sexual stimulations, requiring situationally inappropriate attire, and sleep deprivation.

Violent hazing is defined as “behaviors that do or could cause physical or psychological harm,” including “placing students in the shower against their will” (a practice called “showering”), beating, paddling or other forms of assault, bondage, kidnapping, expecting illegal activity, or forcing or coercing members to take alcohol and/or drugs, perform sexual acts, or ingest “vile substances.”

Notably, showering was the only behavior singled out as prohibited in both the old and new versions of the policy beyond those listed by Massachusetts law, though the previous version said it “may be considered a form of hazing.”

The Tech previously reported that policies introduced by the Interfraternity Council in January now mean that organizational hazing cases from the body are handled by the Committee on Discipline, typically resulting in organizational suspension if the party is found in violation. Robinson said she did not yet know the details of how the updated Mind and Hand Book would interact with that policy, but said, “There is a continuum of behavior; there is a continuum of [disciplinary] response.”

Robinson said, that after collecting student feedback, the goal was “use the policy to inform students of what different levels of hazing are, which is why you see more detailed examples.” She added that while most people would identify violent hazing as hazing, “there are other forms of behavior that would qualify as hazing that we needed to inform students of as well.”

Other updates

The updates to policies related to sexual misconduct, stalking, and intimate partner violence were minor edits according to Robinson, as the majority of the changes happened early in the 2013-2014 academic year. The weapons and hazardous materials policies, while partially reworded, remained largely similar to their previous versions.

Creating the policies

Robinson said that in April of 2013 the working group began identifying policies that needed to be updated in an effort to have policies “up to date with current practice and provide clarity to students.”

She said the group decided not to put most of the changes into effect at the start of the 2013-2014 academic year because they felt that they couldn’t collect enough student input on the new policies over the summer. She said those policies then went through multiple drafts over the course of meeting with student groups and other stakeholders on campus throughout the course of the academic year.

The changes to the sexual misconduct policy, including the addition of the intimate partner violence and stalking policies, however, took place in October, as those updates were necessary for MIT be in compliance with federal Title IX requirements. She added that a few edits to that policy were made over the course of the academic year, which are reflected in the latest version of the Mind and Hand Book.

Robinson said the new policies are designed to be educational statements and are designed to help students understand “what it means to be a member of the MIT community.” She emphasized that the working group’s edits focused on providing clarity to students about expectations and policies.

Robinson listed a wide range of student groups and bodies consulted during the process of updating the policies, ranging from the MIT Police to FSILG leadership. According to Matthew Davis ’16, the Risk Manager and Housing Chair of Dormitory Council during the last academic year, DormCon assembled a list of changes by comparing drafts of the policies and considering a similar list of edits compiled by the Undergraduate Association. These were then presented to the dormitory presidents who then commented in meetings such as those that were the subjects of the previously cited minutes.

“The students who gave us feedback — and there many of them — they were such an important part of the process… As we move forward we will continue that practice of involving student leaders or emerging student leaders in those conversations,” Robinson said.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

You know what, let's just go ahead and get rid of all of the fraternities

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

1 - If the value of fraternities is mostly dependent on their ability to drink in large quantities, haze, and take drugs... I agree with you completely.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

2 - behaviors that emphasize a power imbalance between new members and other members of the group or community

With this definition, it can easily be argued that the entire pledging process, or even fraternity leadership positions, are a form of subtle hazing.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

3 - As a brother, I think certain pledging processes can be construed as hazing. I don't think leadership positions (of the standard president, treasurer, etc) are at risk here.

TauIotaMu almost 10 years ago

At MIT, hazing includes initiation activity that (1) "demeans" new members (lowers their status) and (2) causes them physical or mental discomfort. It could include assigning them duties not assigned to older members; withholding privileges; or the like.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

4 - The simple notion of being a pledge versus a brother very clearly emphasizes "a power imbalance between new members and other members of the group or community."

Will they use this to argue that pledging is a form of hazing? Probably not, but that's exactly the problem. As with many of MIT's policies, we have to hope these are deliberately overreaching and will not be abused. One would hope the policy makers can come up with more realistic definitions so students aren't constantly questioning whether MIT will actually enforce a policy, or if they're just adding it because it "is a fairly standard practice at most institutions."

TauIotaMu almost 10 years ago

The annual MIT Crime Report says that alcohol and drug referrals have shot up from 20 in 2008 to 80 in 2012.

It doesn't say why.

This year's report should be out soon.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

6 - Pledge vs. brother isn't inherently a power imbalance. It only is if the brothers use fraternity rules to demean pledges.