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September 21, 2011

This essay appeared as a “Viewpoint” piece in The Tufts Daily on September 21, 2011; click here to see it in the Daily.

Where is our Jumbo Pride?

I am constantly asked what is the best part of my job as President of Tufts University. The answer is simple…the students. They are smart, positive and engaged, not only in their studies and research, but in all aspects of Tufts life, from drama, music and art, to athletics and keeping fit, to community service both locally and abroad.

It is one of the highlights of my morning routine to decide which Jumbo tie to put around my neck: Jumbos dancing, Jumbos on ice skates, Jumbos parading with their trunks high in the air…all symbols of our Jumbo pride. However, on Monday mornings when I arrive at my office in Ballou Hall, there is always a manila folder on my desk, which I dread opening. It contains the reports from the Tufts University Police Department about students who were transported to the emergency room over the weekend for alcohol intoxication. Nothing deflates my Jumbo pride more than this Monday morning ritual.

How can the same students who instill in the Tufts community such a positive sense of purpose, break the law and drink to such excess that it requires emergency medical care? I have spent every day since Fall Ball asking myself this question and listening to faculty, staff and students who were willing to discuss the issue with me. Many of those who were transported were drinking hard liquor as part of ‘binge drinking’ or ‘pre-gaming’. The single most important aspect of this behavior is that it takes place in a social situation. These students were not drinking alone. They were consuming excessive amounts of alcohol in a social environment, which seems to foster drinking with the sole aim of getting drunk.

Social media also contribute to this culture. Many of you have connected with me via various sites such as Facebook and Twitter. I have enjoyed reaching out to you using these platforms. At the same time, I have been surprised by the number of postings, tweets and photos that boast about getting and being drunk, or contain content glorifying the scenes where binge drinking takes place, both on and off campus. I have contacted some students expressing my concern for their health and personal development and requested they remove this alcohol-related content. It diminishes their own and Tufts’ reputation. I think it also contributes to the problem with alcohol abuse in the community. Research shows that many of our students do not drink, and of those who do, by no means all drink to excess. But if such behavior is seen as normal in social media, it will come to seem normal in daily life.

If binge drinking is occurring in a social situation and is being glorified through social media, then it is not just about the individual who is unfortunate enough to get transported for medical care. It is a social issue, and all of us need to work together to stop the culture of binge drinking. I want to do my part, and I know many other committed members of the Tufts community—students as well as faculty and staff—who want to make this a collective effort. At the same time, while binge drinking is a social issue, individual actions still matter. You need to look after your own friends and classmates to ensure they are not put in the position of requiring emergency medical care for alcohol intoxication. For all the Jumbo pride we feel in our community service activities to help those who live and work around us, have we forgotten our own Tufts community? Let’s focus our Jumbo pride on preventing students from abusing alcohol. The best day of my Presidency at Tufts will be the Monday morning when that manila folder is empty. Only then will I feel the full force of Jumbo pride.