Thursday, February 02, 2006

Does this image remind you of your campus?

Three months and about 10,000 visits ago, I blogged about my SSDP chapter's campaign to overturn the University of Rhode Island's disciplinary policies that treat students like babies.

Since then, we have come a long way, but there is still much work to be done. Our two most recent victories come by way of a major media hit and a substantial comprimise by University officials.

Last week, Rhode Island's largest weekly publication, The Providence Phoenix, featured SSDP's campaign as their cover story. The story (entitled "Tale of Two Campuses" in the print version) takes a comparative angle, pitting URI's harsh, invasive policies against Brown University's more sensible policies.
Not surprisingly, considering how Animal House-style antics have long been considered part of the college experience, many students are chafing under the strains of URI’s new prohibitionism. Some complain that the festivities have merely been transferred off-campus, leading to tensions between students and residents in the towns near URI. Others cite inconsistency in the approach of resident assistants in different dorms. But perhaps the most galling thing is how elite private colleges like Brown University seem to favor a more tolerant approach when it comes to student partying.

At Brown, for instance, there is no rigid protocol for suspending students caught with alcohol or drugs. (After a third offense related to drugs or alcohol, URI students face academic probation or suspension from the university for one year. A violation involving drugs counts for two strikes, while one involving both drugs and alcohol results in a suspension.) At Brown, each violation is taken on a “case by case” basis, although three infractions would be taken “very seriously,” a university official says, and students can be suspended for repeated violations. Tom Angell, a 2004 graduate of URI who serves as the campaign director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy in Washington, DC, sums up the situation this way: “At private, Ivy League schools, students tend to get off easier than at state schools.”
Of course, the campaign's focus is not as simple as the "freedom to party" - rather, it is primarily about justice and safety. In a sense, we are fighting the Drug War on a local level.
For URI students like senior Micah Daigle, president of the campus chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), the school’s drug and alcohol policies seem like a trap, luring students into a confrontation with the law.

“Before, when URI was not a dry campus, most of the partying went on on-campus — it was contained,” Daigle says. “Now, there are parties going on next to people living with kids and their families, so they are understandably angry . . . You can have a few maybe drinking in the [dormitory] room and, if you’re lucky, an RA won’t catch you. But if you want to party, you have to go 20 minutes away — which means you have to drive.”


Daigle and the SSDP favor policies that offer education and treatment for non-violent drug and alcohol offenses. Given a choice, Daigle would choose the model applied at Brown University. “They’re dealing with very similar circumstances,” at both schools, he says. “It’s students who are all essentially the same age, getting into the same things, drugs and alcohol. I feel like there is another way of going about this, which would be more towards the model of Brown, where you’re not busting students.”

Tom Angell, SSDP’s national campaign director, says the lesson of the war on drugs is that strict laws and increased enforcement only guarantee more arrests, not fewer users. The problem of student drug and alcohol use is cultural, Daigle and Angell say, and no amount of law enforcement can stop it.
In addition to this great media coverage, our campaign has succeeded in establishing an unwritten but substantial policy change. As a direct result of negotiations between SSDP's activists and the president of the University, all Resident Hall Assistants have been ordered to no longer call the police when encountering a marijuana violation. Incidents involving marijuana are now to be dealt with within URI's Conduct System, a system that has major flaws but does not result in prison sentences and criminal records.

If you have harsh, prohibitionist policies on your campus, you can fight back and win. Visit the national Campus Change Campaign webpage or contact Tom Angell for more information on how you can make a difference.


Jeremy said...

congratulations on the compromise - that's one HUGE step towards keeping the URI campus safe for students. I'm no longer a student there, but i thank you and appluad your efforts on behalf of all the students who are exploring life and will now avoid getting caught up in our inhumane legal system that victimizes innocent people due to their personal preferences.

800 pound gorilla said...

They're against drugs??? I mean if they were serious they would treat all drugs equally - including all the medications and stimulants like espresso. I find it hilarious in "drug free schools" when I see teachers and staff chugging their mochas. If they listen to teacher conversations they will overhear how teachers recommend new drugs to treat the various afflictions and trade "drug strategies". Over half the staff at any school are drug dependent [which is by definition health related].

What kind of message do you send kids when you demonize mere use of "bad drugs" while promoting over reliance and dependency on "good drugs"? How do you justify this policy when there is no scientific basis for classification? It's OK to bond with people using caffeine - which contributes to heart and blood pressure problems that often lead to very expensive, unhealthy, long term drug dependency[ies] that cost society dearly - but not OK to use alcohol or other arbitrarily banned and age restricted drugs on an occasional basis to bond with others?? I hold by my statement: drug dependencies increase steadily with age and income. Drug problems are the most serious among people my age and older.

It's that way because we deliberately don't educate them about responsible and healthy use of drugs. We arbitrarily demonize certain usage - without explanation. You have to come up with something better than "trust me, these drugs are bad" to convince kids. And when you arbitrarily classify some drugs as bad, it makes selling over reliance and dependency that much easier for legal drug sellers.

Of course if people actually taught kids how to minimize dangers from using drugs for intoxication purposes, some one would tell us
1] That getting wasted occasionally serves no therapeutic purpose - which is false.
2] That this would encourage more people to get wasted occasionally.
Using that logic why not suspend all defensive driving classes [highly recommended in my book but not as highly as vigorous exercise regimens] because that would just teach kids how to drive faster in a safer manner? Defensive driving skills might lead to increased drag racing. Same thing for gun safety classes turning people into mass murderers.

Getting wasted isn't all bad. And "dangerous drugs" shouldn't be the entire focus of drug education - and ironically it represents only a small fraction of real drug problems in this country.

Jonthon said...


"Over half the staff at any school are drug dependent"

I think you're shooting the moon here. Given the persistence of your "government doesn't keep facts on this sort of drug use" theme, I find it puzzling that you regularly cite statistics.

I suppose I am feeling defensive of teachers, who perform a valuable civic duty. I deplore of this "teacher vs. student" mentality. Often school boards and administrators implement the policies that abrogate my rights. Let us be sure not to empty our quivers on those who make the arrows.

asb. said...

I find it unfortunate that while I wholeheartedly agree with your last sentence, I cannot support your position because of the flippant argument you make to support your case. Firstly, you are misusing the clinical term "dependence;" secondly, the medical and scientific communities have not come to the unanimous conclusion about caffeine that you suggest; thirdly, to seriously compare the effects of caffeine with those of crystal, blow, or ice suggests that you are either oblivious to the havoc that the misuse of those substances can wreak, or lack compassion for those who are less able to easily control their use; and finally, i disagree that the current scheduling system is "arbitrary." There are most certainly reasons behind these decisions, not ones that i agree with, but reasons nonetheless. I would ask that you more carefully consider your position and your rhetoric, 800#gorilla, or risk having people dismiss your opinion (or worse, the opinions of all people on your "side"). Thank you.