Friday, October 26, 2007

SSDP’s Message Resounds: “Stop The War on Drugs from Becoming a War on Education."

Students across the country have their eyes on Congress. Demanding that the government repeal the Aid Elimination Penalty - part of the Higher Education Act that strips students with drug convictions of their financial aid - they are educated, organized, and passionate. And word is spreading: college newspapers have been scrutinizing this law recently as activists work to educate more people about its damaging effects.

Kristen Hodges’ article in The Kansas State Collegian quotes SSDP’s Government Relations Director Tom Angell describing the national coalition for repeal of the penalty that the group has built, including more than 350 organizations.
"We've been mobilizing students ever since day one in working to try to repeal that penalty," Angell said, "and it is not just a bunch of students that are angry about this. We have prominent education groups, like the National Education Association, and folks concerned with addiction recovery."
The national office has certainly had success, but campus chapters are the heart of SSDP. In the University of Connecticut’s The Daily Campus, Brittany Dorn reports on the success of the campus’ SSDP chapter.
UConn's chapter of SSDP was started last fall by Dan Cornelious, a 7th-semester political science major, who is now president of the 20-member group. The UConn SSDP chapter has been active on campus in a variety of ways this past year, from hosting speakers and discussions - such as a medical marijuana panel held earlier this month - to working with the administration to change drug policies and punishments.
Chapters are getting creative in fighting the effects of the Aid Elimination Penalty. In an editorial, the staff of the University of Maryland’s The Diamondback applauds work done by that school’s SSDP chapter.
Now it's apparent, as The Diamondback's Nathan Cohen reported yesterday, that SSDP has also employed a brilliant, unflinching method of lobbying resident assistants to use discretion when reporting marijuana use. To be clear, we don't support an on-campus housing scene where bong hits are more common than books. But SSDP is appealing to what this is all about: the appalling disregard of justice Resident Life officials have displayed so far.

Because Resident Life's policies on pot use are baseless, unbalanced and indefensible, SSDP will likely find great success in appealing to RAs. We hope that, as Resident Life will likely attempt to assail SSDP's efforts, RAs will do their duty to consider the plight of their fellow students and think critically about Resident Life's obsession with micro-managing its staff.
Finally, back to the Kansas State Collegian article by Kristen Hodges. She relates the story of one student and shows how the effects of the Aid Elimination Penalty might be more widespread than the 200,000 students who have had their aid revoked. With SSDP chapters around the country raising this issue, newspapers are covering it and finding stories like this that make clear the problems with current law.
"We were smoking in my friend's vehicle and got pulled over," he said. "The cop smelled drugs, and so he called for backup and started searching until he found a roach in the ashtray."

Though his financial aid was not affected, the alumnus said the police threatened him and said he ruined his future and told him, "when Sallie Mae hears about this, your financial aid is gone."

The alumnus said he could have contested his conviction because the drugs were in his friend's vehicle, but he was too worried about losing his financial aid to fight the case, so he pled no contest and got a diversion.
Activists around the country should take heart: you are being heard and you can make a difference. As widespread coverage of SSDP activity continues, the movement will only grow, and we'll come closer and closer to finally living in a country with sensible drug policy.