Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Safety comes first, but policies remain unclear for alcohol, marijuana

This summer Washington residents had their first opportunity to buy legal marijuana from retailers throughout the state. While students over the age of 21 can now legally smoke inside private residences, Whitman College’s policy towards marijuana remains unchanged. The college’s official policy makes no distinction between marijuana and more dangerous drugs in its official policy, and bans on marijuana are more strictly enforced on campus than policies against underage drinking.

Whitman maintains strict policies against marijuana out of concern that the federal government may cut off essential financial aid and other funding, should the college be found in violation of the federal Drug Free Schools and Communities Act and Title IV. However, the college strives to maintain a policy which emphasizes the safety of students.

Despite the law and official policy, students frequently use both marijuana and alcohol at Whitman and nationwide. In response to this reality, the college quietly tries to promote safety-oriented approaches to enforcement. However, the aspects of Whitman’s policies which promote safety are often not openly endorsed by the college.

Photo by Hayley Turner
Photo by Hayley Turner

“We get millions of dollars in support in grants from the government, and like anything else, these laws and approaches are very political … So until federal law changes, Whitman will not change its formal policy [for marijuana],” said Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland. “[At the same time], I think it’s reasonable to assume we need to promote a [marijuana] policy that, at least in common sense, makes sense for the college, and be open to changing the policy should federal law change.”

In 2012, the most recent Lifestyle Survey for the college found 71.2 percent of Whitman students drink on the typical Friday night, and over 50.9 percent had used marijuana in the past year. The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found 60.2 percent of participants between the ages of 18 and 25 had drunk alcohol in the past month, and 31.5 percent had smoked marijuana in the past year.

Safety First

The official policy of Whitman College is zero-tolerance for underage drinking, or drinking outside on campus or in public areas of the residence halls, regardless of age. However, security officers and resident advisors focus on reporting irresponsible and potentially dangerous drinking behaviors, and they do not typically enter students’ rooms when the door is closed and there is not evidence of unsafe behavior. All first-year students attend a presentation on responsible drinking and alcohol safety during their first week on campus.

The college’s official approach to marijuana is more strict. Marijuana is covered by the same policy as heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and other illegal drugs. College employees who smell marijuana in residence halls investigate its source, and students face strict sanctions should any drugs or paraphernalia be found.

“We have what I would call a passive investigation model, a passive search model. If it’s apparent, [security officers] may ask you, but they aren’t going to do random searches,” said Cleveland. “We want students to be safe and not do anything that harms them or the community. That’s our primary goal here. It’s not to become oppressive or adversarial.”

Security officers may approach students should they smell signs of alcohol or marijuana, but their focus is to be the safety of students. Bags and personal belongings are generally not to be searched without heavy cause or the approval of college administrators in the Office of Student Affairs.

Missing Priorities

Despite its stated commitment to safety, Whitman lacks many official policies other schools have for promoting safety. According to the Students for Sensible Drug Policy, over 200 colleges, including Harvard University, Gonzaga College and Pacific Lutheran University, have adopted some form of “Good Samaritan policy,” which allows students using alcohol, marijuana or other drugs illicitly to call campus security for assistance in the case of a medical emergency without fear of sanctions.

Washington State passed a Good Samaritan law in June 2010 granting legal amnesty in cases of overdoses, and they extended the law to cover alcohol poisoning of underage drinkers in May 2013. While this provides protection from criminal prosecution, without a campus-specific Good Samaritan policy, colleges may still choose to bring sanctions against students.

Whitman does not have an official Good Samaritan policy. However, a patchwork of smaller policies results in Whitman treating students similarly. Students who visit the Welty Student Health Center for substance-related reasons are not referred to the Office of the Dean of Students, though they may be reported by security should the Health Center have to call them due to disruptive behavior.

“[All treatment] that is done in the Health Center is strictly confidential,” said Health Center Director Claudia Ness. “If we need to call security for backup or support, they have their own mechanisms and reporting structures, but nothing comes from the Health Center directly.”

The Health Center’s medical amnesty policy can be found under the Health Center’s section in the Student Handbook, but not in Whitman’s official alcohol or drug policies or on the college’s web page.

In recent years, security officers have not reported students names when they are called by the Health Center for assistance. If called to a room to medically assist a student, they do file a report, though according to Director of Security Matt Stroe, this is to allow for follow-up and assistance for the student. These policies are not found anywhere in the student handbook or on the college’s web page.

Sanctions Unclear

Whitman College has no clear guidelines for guiding what sanctions are to be made for violations of the college’s alcohol and drug policies. Students Conduct Administrators (SCAs) typically handle disciplinary actions taken by the college, though students accused of breaking policy may elect to a trial by the Council of Student Affairs. They may also appeal the SCA’s sanctions to the dean of students if they contest the charges and are still given sanctions by the SCA after presenting evidence.

Dozens of schools, including Pomona College, Reed College and Pacific Lutheran University, post clear guidelines for sanctions. These schools have harsher consequences for repeat offenders and those guilty of more serious offenses, such as drug dealing or using more dangerous drugs. Though Whitman generally follows these patterns in its sentencing, it is not transparent about the process.

“We confront all students [using marijuana] we become aware of. We talk to the students, virtually all of them receive a warning. [Security and residence life staff] confiscate paraphernalia if they find it, but I can’t think of a case that led to a student to be dismissed from the college. And quite frankly, we don’t often see students a second time. Does that mean they stop smoking weed? It probably means they just don’t get caught,” said Cleveland. “Our approach to conduct is to do the minimal amount we can to change the behavior … [but] there’s not a formal policy [guiding sanctions].”


Photo by Hayley Turner
Photo by Hayley Turner
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