Share this article

print logo

HOUSING, INEXPERIENCE TIED TO MIT DEATH

Scott Krueger, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology student from Orchard Park who died Monday, apparently was the victim of two unrelated factors -- a housing crunch that sends many freshmen into off-campus fraternities and an inexperienced drinker's low tolerance for alcohol.

Those conclusions emerged Wednesday from critics of MIT's housing and fraternity problems, as well as from alcohol-abuse experts.

One week after going off to college, following orientation week, Krueger moved into the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house in Boston, across the river from MIT's Cambridge campus.

Krueger lapsed into an alcohol-induced coma Friday night in the frat house, after a "Big Brothers" night celebration with intensive drinking. He died Monday of respiratory failure.

While some people consider his death an issue of underage drinking on college campuses, others question why an 18-year-old freshman was living in a largely unsupervised fraternity house two miles from campus.

"I'm not sure that a freshman, with all the other adjustments he or she must go through, should be allowed to pledge a social fraternity or sorority," said Carolyn Fabiano, a Grand Island High School guidance counselor.

"With all the other baggage a freshman has to pursue -- the amount of freedom, the academic pressure, the diversity of population, a limited budget and the adjustment from high school and family -- they don't need the additional pressure (of a fraternity or sorority). I don't think a 17- or 18-year-old kid is ready for that."

Unlike Buffalo, Boston has a tight and expensive housing market that
creates a chronic student-housing shortage. As a result, roughly one-third of MIT freshmen live in 39 off-campus "independent houses," such as fraternities and sororities, with less supervision and oversight from the university.

The 1994 Fiske Guide to Colleges describes the housing challenge for MIT freshmen:

"Freshmen decide on their housing arrangements during orientation week, a seven-day ordeal that some claim is the most pressure-packed part of the whole MIT experience. Assigned temporary housing when they first arrive, the confused tenderfoots must, during the first week, be successfully rushed by a fraternity or sorority, join an independent living group . . . or choose a dorm."

Two former MIT students, Scott R. Velazquez and Robert Plotkin, warned MIT officials five years ago about the potential for tragedies in fraternity houses.

Freshmen are rushed into the MIT housing system "via one big snow job," with students and parents given a false sense of security, the two former students wrote in a 35-page paper on the Internet.

"Incoming students and their parents, completely uninformed, are made to believe that MIT fraternities are different, that they are just places to live, an alternative to dormitory life," they wrote. "(But) MIT fraternities are fraternities, and MIT sororities are sororities; they are secret societies based on elitism, dominance, humiliation and fear."

Charles M. Vest, MIT president, said Wednesday the university would build more dormitories to reduce its reliance on fraternity housing, prohibit the use of MIT funds to buy alcohol for events where students under 21 are present, and hold seminars on "binge" drinking and alcohol abuse.

"I believe that what we have done, and what all campuses have done, is inadequate and not sufficient," he said. "And to me, that really is the basic point. We have to learn how to do better."

MIT officials said off-campus fraternities, sororities and non-Greek houses are subject to rules.

"The fraternities are all institute-approved houses, which means they have to be up to code and license, and they have to follow MIT rules and regulations," said Robert J. Sales, assistant director of the MIT news office.

After the tragedy, MIT suspended all social activities at Phi Gamma Delta, and the university's fraternity council has canceled all events involving alcohol. Phi Gamma Delta's national headquarters said it was suspending the fraternity. Licensing authorities charged the fraternity with serving alcohol to minors, allowing an alcohol overdose and other violations.

Krueger's inexperience with alcohol also might have played a part in his death, according to experts. Family members said he did not drink before attending college.

Authorities say his blood-alcohol level was .41 percent, five times the Massachusetts legal limit for intoxication.

"To get to a .40, an average-sized male would need to drink 15 to 20 drinks within an hour," said Dr. Debbie Korwin, a physician in the chemical dependency department at Erie County Medical Center. But two people with .40 percent blood-alcohol levels may exhibit vastly different symptoms.

"We have folks who walk into our detox (unit) who have .40, and they're walking and talking," Dr. Korwin said. "These are experienced drinkers whose tolerance levels are very high. Anyone who's not an experienced drinker would pass out from lower alcohol levels, above .20."

Chronic drinkers tend to build a tolerance to alcohol's effects in three ways, Dr. Korwin said:

They metabolize the alcohol faster.

Their brain cells become more immune to alcohol's effects.

They tend to adapt to situations as if they were sober.

Experts in the field, using media reports, offered a possible scenario for the events leading to Krueger's death:

He might have drunk a large quantity of alcohol within a short period of time before stumbling back to his room. He then might have passed out while his body still was absorbing alcohol -- the peak blood-alcohol level normally occurs 30 to 90 minutes after the alcohol is ingested.

He might have vomited while passed out, and aspirated vomit.

His high alcohol level also might have severely hampered his breathing, leading to a lack of oxygen to his brain.

A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, 4536 S. Buffalo St., Orchard Park.

There are no comments - be the first to comment