Adam Pulver | Unintended Consequences

The end of the semester is here and that means a few things here at Tufts.

The library becomes unbelievably crowded (especially when Tisch administrators decide that the Sunday afternoon before the last week of classes is the best time to have a reception for rich people who donated the new ugliest piece of artwork at Tufts). It suddenly becomes less lame to stay in on a Friday or Saturday night. Stress levels reach an all-time high and the opportunities for relieving them reach a low. And for the past 20 years or so, Tufts students have dealt with this conundrum by dedicating one night of reading period to partying and shedding their skivvies for a few laps around the Rez Quad. Yes, folks, it is time once again for Naked Quad Run.

Since the anomalous Naked Quad Run of 2002, during which several students were seriously injured and President Bacow threw a virtual hissy fit in an e-mail to students, Tufts student and administrative leadership has been on a mission to make a safer, healthier Naked Quad Run. Oh, wait, not technically, because they “can’t” officially recognize Naked Quad Run and recognize that students will be drinking and running around naked.

The politics surrounding Naked Quad Run are actually quite fascinating. The most interesting is the heralding of last year’s “success” – the Nighttime Quad Reception (NQR) – a package of fairly benign, yet useless ancillary activities that may actually increase attendance and overcrowding. What basis do supporters of the new and improved NQR have in claiming success? One hard fact: Fewer students were injured in 2003 than were in 2002.

Never mind that the number of injuries was about the same as in 2001 and prior years, or that the total number in any year is so small that any differences are statistically insignificant. Never mind that students were chucking hard, packed ice balls at other students’ naked bodies because West Hall was closed early in the night to spectators and runners, naked and clothed, sober and drunk alike. Never mind that students were extremely unsettled by the presence of Jodie Nealley and Bruce Reitman (who were just checking on the disbursement of donuts, I am sure). Never mind that most of the planned aspects of the Nighttime Quad Reception were cancelled due to “unsuspected snow.” (Snow on the ground in December in Boston? Who’da thunk?)

NQR is a community-building experience and, as such, we must recognize its value. Interestingly, the only place you will find the term “Naked Quad Run” mentioned on the Tufts’ Web site (other than in Bacow’s reprimand) is in the Task Force on the Undergraduate Experience’s report, discussing NQR as one of the few University-wide traditions and one of students’ “favorite memories” of their years on the Hill.

But clearly, there are problems surrounding Naked Quad Run. Some students disregard any sense of moderation and drink excessively, endangering themselves and others. The event raises serious questions about body image and comfort with sexuality on-campus. The atmosphere is conducive to sexual harassment and sexual assault. Excessive drinking on what is traditionally the first night of reading period has obvious connections to students’ feelings of stress and pressure.

Yet none of these problems are dealt with by the nonsolutions of the Nighttime Quad Reception and administrative policies and practices. No one decides not to binge drink because the Senate is giving out t-shirts to 200 of the thousands of people on campus. No one leaves West Hall to get a Krispy Kreme to soak up the alcohol in their stomach (they wouldn’t be able to get back in anyway). One TCU senator defended the Senate’s work by citing the “safety monitors” it will post in and around West Hall. “If a kid is passed out on the floor, he will get help.” The task campus leadership is charged with is preventing that kid from ever passing out in the first place.

The Senate and several administrators have argued that we cannot teach students about safe drinking if they are under 21. They cite legal issues, and fear of liability if a student drinks and something happens to him or her. But I argue that by failing to teach students about safe ways to drink, even though we know they drink unsafely, the University is being negligent, both legally and ethically.

In contemporary American society, the university serves as host site for more than intellectual development, but emotional and social development as well. Unfortunately, Tufts higher-ups consistently neglect this important aspect of higher education. While focusing on capital campaigns, improving research opportunities, recruiting big-name faculty, and promoting public service, Tufts lags far behind its peers in its effort to help students grow into healthy adults.

While this issue is more complicated than I can express in this short column, this failure cuts across the campus: the quagmire that is the Office Of Residential Life and Learning under Yolanda King (which seems to bother no one in Ballou Hall), the lack of a comprehensive health education program on campus, the community relations-driven impetus for public safety policy, the P.R.-driven promotion of certain individual students and neglect of others.

If the University insists on an acute crisis management model for dealing with Naked Quad Run, it must at the very least abandon the attitude that it “cannot” deal with the real issues involved. It is laughable that the University could claim the Naked Quad Run is not a University-sanctioned event, but still set up a course for students to run on and concurrently sponsor a “Nighttime Quad Reception.” If you are going to do anything to make NQR a safer experience, you might as well do something worthwhile, and that means focusing on prevention and the greater context of the college campus.

Naked Quad Run provides a perfect “excuse” for the University to invest time, energy and money into creating year-round programming designed to reduce unhealthy behaviors on campus. The University abandons its responsibility to create a healthy, safe environment for students to grow from children to adults when it focuses on punitive approaches and other nonsolutions to serious issues.

Run safe, and have a happy, healthy holiday season and New Year.

Adam Pulver is a senior majoring in political science and community health. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]