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NQR reconsidered

Published: Monday, March 14, 2011

Updated: Monday, March 14, 2011 07:03

In 2002, I had my first encounter with the Naked Quad Run (NQR). That year, two students nearly died the night of the run due to alcohol poisoning. In addition, we had many reports of broken bones and 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 student affairs, the director of public safety and the president of the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate, I agreed that we should try to manage the run rather than end it. Since then, the Facilities and Construction Department 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 (TUPD) 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 Student Affairs' 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 12 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 0.3 — 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 subfreezing 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 seniors Sam Wallis, president of the TCU, 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.


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4 comments Log in to Comment

Tue Mar 15 2011 06:25

You make a good point, but the administration is caught in a Catch-22. What do you suggest the administration do?

Mon Mar 14 2011 23:32
While I fully support the opinion of Mr. Bacow, I have to raise attention to the fact that NQR became a university event because of the need to establish control. I worked as a volunteer EMT during the time when NQR became a sanctioned event. Before then, the crowds packing West Hall were so dense that emergency personnel could not reach students in need of assistance. Since the NQR was not a registered event, there was no justification for the university to have greater than the normal number of police officers on duty, which was usually two to three. These officers were greatly overwhelmed by the number of calls on the night of NQR and could not respond to multiple calls for medical assistance, disruptive or fighting students, fire alarms and overcrowded dorms. By taking this action, I am concerned that the "true spirit" of NQR will return- an ad hoc event led by intoxicated students in West Hall- with no resources to deal with the resultant problems. The only way to prevent NQR from happening is to "crack down" on the event, which would require the same police presence as during the university sanctioned event. As Mr. Bacow has stated in his commentary, the university has problems with alcohol during other student events. I challenge that perhaps there is an unhealthy culture around alcohol use at the university, and that this is the true root of the issue. Sanctioned events or not, students at Tufts are drinking to dangerous extremes. Rather than try to absolve the university of legal responsibility should a student injure themselves during a university sanctioned event, the university administration should seek to encourage responsible drinking among students. Mr. Bacow should cultivate a culture on campus where extreme intoxication is not considered a desirable weekend goal.
Mon Mar 14 2011 16:27
I appreciate that you took the time to write such a thoughtful defense of your position, Mr. Bacow, anticipating the invariable backlash and tarnish to your memory. However, I think in this letter you actually unknowingly touched upon the actual issue at hand here - that your efforts to control these sorts of events usually tend to grow their issues, to the point that you have to take dramatic action.

You and the administration seem to think that by canceling or subduing the events wherein students consume alcohol and participate in related events, you are stemming the problem at its source. Students drink. You can either choose to cultivate that energy towards school spirit and safety (having students drink in the open makes it easier to monitor and control), or to squash it, forcing these same students to exercise the same urge in closed settings, far from your view and further alienating them from the institution.

The school cannot continue to operate completely upon the directives of insurance adjustors and lawyers on retainer. Sometimes it is not convenient to do the right thing, but those with true vision pursue it anyways. That's my two cents, anyways.

Bob Loblaw
Mon Mar 14 2011 12:32
Thank you, Larry. I know a lot of other current students are too immature to see why this had to be done, but I get it... and it needed to be put down. It's a shame that now they'll only remember you for this...

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