Changes to emphasize treatment over disciplinary action
By EMILY WILLIAMS ’16
The College administration plans to release a new version of the Wellesley College drug policy at the beginning of the fall 2014 semester. The administration reviews the drug policy every other year and the alcohol policy in the years between, but the drug policy has not undergone major revisions since 2010.
In the fall of 2013, the Drug Policy Review Committee began the preliminary stages of the review. The committee consists of Assistant Director of Residential Life Donald Leach, Assistant Director of Health Education Claudia Trevor-Wright, Assistant Director of Group and Outreach Activities Megan Edwards, Lieutenant Phil Di Blasi, Jeni Prater ’14 and Rebecca Hosey ’15.
As Leach and Trevor-Wright anticipated in October 2013, the new drug policy will not make allowances for medical marijuana on campus. Although the state of Massachusetts decriminalized marijuana in small amounts and allows the use and sale of medical marijuana, federal law still prohibits all usage. By allowing the use of medical marijuana on campus, schools risk losing their access to federal funding for financial aid. Even schools in states where marijuana is completely legal, such as Washington State University and University of Colorado Boulder, do not permit the use or possession of marijuana on campus.
“Because of the federal mandates, we have no wiggle room with regards to marijuana,” Leach said.
According to Leach, neither the administration nor the students seem eager to trade access to financial aid for the ability to use marijuana on campus.
“It makes sense that Wellesley, which is well known for its financial aid, is not going to be the first institution to jeopardize that,” Prater said.
The new policy will also more clearly explain the process of contesting a policy violation. If student want to contest a policy violation, they can have their cases heard before a panel to determine if they are in violation of the policy and what the consequences will be. This is the alternative option to having a hearing exclusively heard by Leach. This panel will be composed of the Associate Dean of Students, a Residential Life professional staff member and a student. While the structure of the panel will not change, the process is now more transparent in the new policy.
The administration decided to revamp the policy in order to make it more clear and accessible to readers.
“We want students to read it and say, ‘Yeah, that makes perfect sense.’ We wanted it to be something that would be internalized, and it’s very hard to internalize something that you don’t understand. People may disagree with it on several points, but at least it’s clear what they’re disagreeing with,” Trevor-Wright said.
The new policy is less focused on repercussions for violations and more focused on the treatment students in violation of the policy will undergo. The policy outlines the different channels students in violation of the policy will go through for treatment rather than disciplinary action.
“They are really trying to use the policy more as an educational tool. It’s less about the sanctions and more about the process a person would go through. The process that stands involves a lot of communication with different people who are mainly focused on helping with the issue at hand rather than delivering sanctions,” Prater said. “There have to be policies, but it’s more about how to best accommodate the student.”
An anonymous student who had been found in violation of the drug policy was unsatisfied with the vague language of the current policy and believes that consequences should be outlined more clearly in the policy.
“It’s unfair because the policies aren’t very clear. If you have violations under different codes, it’s not very clear what the outcome will be,” the student said.
However, Leach and Trevor-Wright believe that hearing violations on a case-by-case basis is more effective than having strictly written consequences.
“It’s not a feasible way to write a policy to explicitly say everything. We also know that our students have a good sense of what it means to impose on somebody else,” Trevor-Wright said. “We recognize that there is a bit of vagueness to the consequences section. That’s a trade off that we made from investing a whole lot of time into hearing every person’s situation and really thinking very carefully about what is an appropriate response.”
The new policy will be centered on four community standards, identical to those in the alcohol policy. The standards are “compliance with governing law and college policies, respect for this community through the minimization of the impact of drug use upon others, care for one’s own health and well-being and the seeking of assistance for self or others.” The committee hopes the student body will internalize these community standards, much like the honor code.
The College’s lawyers are currently screening the latest draft of the policy. The committee hopes that this will be the final draft that they will release in the fall semester.
Prater noted that the student body seemed uninterested in the new policy, noting the poor turnout to a question and answer session hosted in mid-April. Trevor-Wright believes this could be because Wellesley has a very low drug-incidence rate.
“If you’re not worried about that, you probably aren’t going to go out and read the drug policy because it is not relevant to your life,” Trevor-Wright said.
Nonetheless, Prater believes that once the policy is published in its full form, students will take more interest in it.