Published in The Tufts Daily, March 14, 2011
In 2002, I had my first encounter with the Naked Quad Run. That year, two students nearly died the night of the run due to alcohol poisoning. In addition, we had many reports of broken bones, sprained ankles and wrists; we also heard accounts of students being tripped and groped by spectators. At the time, the event was completely unmanaged. When I saw the carnage I sent a message to the community expressing my own strong opinion that it should end. I was persuaded otherwise by students and alumni who argued that the run was a cherished tradition at Tufts and that it could be managed to make it safe. I was also persuaded by those who argued that if we tried to eliminate the run, it would only reappear in other forms that might pose even greater risk to our students.
After consulting the Dean of Students, the Director of Public Safety, and the President of the TCU Senate, I agreed that we should try to manage the run rather than end it. Since then, Facilities has erected barriers to eliminate dangerous bottlenecks and keep spectators away from the runners, put out hay bales to protect runners, and salted and sanded the course. The Tufts University Police Department has limited access to West Hall to prevent overcrowding. The TCU Senate and the Programming Board have sponsored the Nighttime Quad Reception to provide food to those who otherwise might be running—and drinking—on an empty stomach.
Unfortunately, our efforts to manage the risks associated with the run may only have helped it grow. An activity that once engaged only a modest number of students now draws a significant portion of the undergraduate population. Moreover, our capacity to manage the run has declined over time. Medford and Somerville Police, who previously assisted in providing security for the run, now refuse to do so, pointing out that this activity would be illegal at any other time or place. Our own police association has written to me saying that our police officers are themselves uncomfortable working the event, noting that students are not only nude but also routinely inebriated and disrespectful. (Members of the Dean of Students staff report that drunk, naked students often taunt those who are working the event, provocatively flaunting their nudity.) Some members of TUPD have even suggested that requiring officers to continue to work the event might constitute a hostile work environment in violation of federal regulations governing sexual harassment.
As has been reported in the Daily, this year’s run led to a student confrontation with police which led to an arrest. In addition, we had twelve medical transports to area hospitals on the night of the run. Drunken students who showed up at Lawrence Memorial Hospital to check on a friend who had been transported disrupted emergency room operations, placing other patients in jeopardy. What is most disturbing, two students were hospitalized that night with reported blood alcohol levels in excess of .3—more than four times the legal limit for driving while intoxicated in Massachusetts. Medical personnel tell me that there is a 50 percent probability of death for anyone with a blood alcohol level in excess of .3. Clearly, this past December we once again only narrowly avoided a tragedy.
When we have had problems with other large events at Tufts, such as Winter Bash or Spring Fling, we have taken actions to ensure the safety of our students. While not always popular, these changes have been effective in reducing the risks associated with these events. Moreover, they have been designed and implemented through consultation between student leaders and members of the administration.
If I thought similar measures might render the Naked Quad Run safe, I would consider them. But as the Daily has also observed, alcohol fuels NQR. Most students say that they require it in order to fortify themselves to shed their inhibitions and run in sub-freezing conditions. Given that we can no longer manage the run, we cannot allow this “tradition” to continue. Even if I did not act now, NQR would end some day. The only question is whether a student has to die first. We cannot allow this to happen, and the Naked Quad Run will not continue.
Other institutions have faced similar questions and have developed new opportunities to build community while ending traditions that are dangerous to students. I have asked Sam Wallis, President of the TCU Senate, and Sarah Habib, Co-Chair of the Programming Board, to work with Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman and others to come up with a plan to create a new campus wide winter event that will engage the larger community. Traditions are important and we want to encourage them, but they also need to be safe. No tradition is worth sacrificing a life to preserve.