Saturday, November 05, 2005

Get up. Stand up. Stand up for your rights.

Watch out folks… there's a deadly epidemic sweeping our country.

It's not mad-cow disease. Or avian flu.

No... this disease is a kind of malignant amnesia, whose onset is marked by the loss of historic memory, and as it digs deeper and eats away at the ideological fiber of our country, it sets its sights on the core American values of basic freedoms and civil rights. The diseased become so affected that they entirely forget what it once meant to be American, and their sense of false-patriotism becomes a tumor that blinds, deafens, and makes dumb.

And as I found out last month, even universities are susceptible to infection.

On October 12, 2005, the University of Rhode Island—my university—passed its own version of the USA PATRIOT Act. Among other things, the new rules allow the university to punish students for what they do off-campus, and allow Residence Hall Directors to search dorm rooms without evidence, prior notice, or consent.

A student’s home is no longer his/her castle at URI, on or off-campus. In fact, the rules even state that a “towel under the door” or a “fan on in the room” warrant sufficient evidence to conduct a search (it isn’t yet clear if the intent is to target marijuana users or messy people who enjoy fresh air). The new off-campus jurisdiction isn’t limited to felonies either. ANY violation of law off-campus (including speeding-tickets, jaywalking, and of course, small drug crimes) can potentially bring a student before the campus judicial system.

The week that these changes were enacted, the URI Student Rights Coalition was formed. Spearheaded by members of URI Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), the coalition mobilized hundreds of students, and marched on URI President Robert Carothers’s office, demanding that he repeal this draconian attack on civil liberties. Our voices were heard around the country (garnering coverage in USA Today, the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, among others). The protest was easily the largest demonstration at URI since the Vietnam War, and was organized by a diverse coalition of about 20 student organizations.

The success of our campaign has been tremendous. Whereas the administration had previously ignored our concerns, they are now paying close attention to what we have to say. Members of the Rights Campaign have been meeting with the administration on a weekly basis, and President Carothers has even publicly urged the faculty senate to form a committee of faculty and students to rework these rules.

Such is the power of grassroots organizing and media outreach. And that power is needed now more than ever, because, as I found out recently, URI is not the first university to enact these kinds of policies. In fact, we are one of the last to make the shift.

It’s not too late to change the policies on your campus. People have been asking me: “Why haven’t students at other universities spoken out against these rules?”.

My answer? “The DARE Generation is just now getting organized.”

1 comment:

Tom Angell said...

Indeed, SSDP will soon be launching a campaign designed to help students change drug policies on their own campuses. This way, students will be able to protect their peers from the wrath of federal drug laws like the HEA Drug Provision while they remain on the books. SSDP members will lead the charge in making real, measurable changes to drug policies on campuses around the country - helping thousands of other students.