Substance Enforcement Questioned
Danny Reinan, Staff Writer
In the spring semester of 2019, in anticipation of the record-breaking incoming class that fall, housing was expanded in Oren Gateway Center. The expansion welcomed in a group of recovery allies: students living in Oren who are not in the StepUp program but must abide by the same substance-free stipulations. This new change, although it has opened up StepUp’s community, brought concerns from students about the Department of Public Safety’s execution of their substance policy.
Alcohol is banned for students under the age of 21 in Mortensen, Anderson, and Luther Hall, and banned outright in Urness Hall and Oren Gateway Center. Illegal drugs are banned in all halls. To enforce these policies, DPS officers receive reports of substance possession and follow up to pinpoint the source of the substance.
What follows from there is dependent on the severity of the substance and amount in possession. The consequence of the possession is determined by the Residence Hall Director and a higher-ranking DPS staff member, with potential outcomes for students being fined, required to stay off campus for a certain period of time or required to go to the hospital if there is concern that the student has consumed an unsafe amount of substances. These restrictions are even more rigid in Oren Gateway Center – possession of substances results in immediate eviction.
Although recovery allies are intended to abide by the same substance-free policies as people in the StepUp program, Elena Geiger, one of four StepUp Peer Advisors, says that she has smelled marijuana in the hallways on multiple occasions. She thinks that a lack of thoroughness may be to blame. “The allies sign the same contract as us, but for us, we are walked through every part of it, and the allies are just given it to sign,” she said. “So I’m worried they aren’t reading the whole thing or know exactly what it says.” She thinks that the situation may improve if the recovery allies are educated about the importance of keeping the environment substance-free.“They could even hear stories from people of StepUp and why it is important that this is a clean dorm and it is important to keep it that way in respect for the people that are in recovery,” she said.
Experiences have not been negative across the board, however. Maxwell Bannister, a student in the StepUp program, believes that things got off to a rocky start, but may be improving. “Last year there were instances of recovery allies drinking and using drugs in our around the building,” he said. “Sometimes these instances were responded to with eviction, but many times it could not be proven… I haven’t heard of any instances [this year].”
Concerns about the Department of Public Safety’s conduct around their drug policy extends beyond Oren. When roommates Kathryn Graham and Alyssa Crow lived in Mortensen Hall, they could smell marijuana in the hallways wafting from the adjacent room. When they called the Department of Public Safety, they allege that the officer asked their neighbors to stop smoking. The smell in the hallway stopped, but the roommates soon smelled it in their bathroom instead since the vents between their bathroom and their next door neighbors’ were connected. When Graham called DPS, however, they said that they could not do anything about the situation because they believed that the smoke could be coming from any room. Thus, the issue persisted. “It was so bad that Alyssa would have asthma attacks in our own apartment,” said Graham.
Christa Kelly, a Resident Advisor in Urness Hall, has witnessed multiple instances of DPS failing to act on their policies. “As an RA, I have been in situations where DPS has turned a blind eye to alcohol use and has willfully failed to effectively enforce drug and alcohol policies,” she said. As for the protocol outlined by both officers and the handbook, she says, “that hasn’t happened. DPS is acting negligently in many regards involving substance abuse.”
This article was originally published in the October 11, 2019 issue.