by Jonathan Rochkind
Dear Dean Cole:
You have developed a reputation at Oberlin as being concerned about student opinions and desires when making decisions that will effect us. This is encouraging, but I am concerned about what was reported in the article "Drug policies to be examined" in the last Review. I am confident that if you investigate the feelings and opinions of the Oberlin College community on this issue, you would find that people are overwhelmingly satisfied with the College's current drug policies and will be overwhelmingly opposed to the changes you suggest.
I, and most other Oberlin students, value the good relationship we typically have with campus security and with residence hall RCs. These good relationships are possible because a Security officer's job is to protect us rather than investigate or bust us, and because an RC's job is to serve as counselor and advisor rather then disciplinarian. This makes it possible for these people to do their jobs quite well, precisely because they are not set up as our investigators or policers. And this relationship would be necessarily and greatly impaired if RCs or Security were to be given such jobs, as you are apparently considering.
You are quoted as saying that "Oberlin needs to come to terms with the fact that drugs are illegal." Of course, many drugs aren't illegal, but the fact that particular drugs are is something I am well aware of. I also know that the `War on Drugs' has been justification for a general erosion of our civil liberties and privacy, and that this `war' is often waged in a racist, classist and oppressive manner. This is why I am especially concerned about your desire to "develop a working relationship" with the police in waging this war. To the extent that the War on Drugs is counter-libertarian, unjust, racist, classist and ultimately futile, it should be our desire as a community to stay out of this war as much as possible.
The Review reports that you believe "drugs and alcohol are a serious problem at Oberlin," but I think this is unsure. At many schools, the typical, and virtually only available weekend activity is getting drunk at a party. Contrasting with Oberlin, where there are a huge variety of non-drug activities that can be, and are, engaged in by the Oberlin student. And, indeed, the results of the drug survey posted in dining halls reveals that Oberlin students use alcohol far less than the average. Other illegal drugs seem to be about as common at Oberlin as they are at other institutions; and while marijuana was reported as being more prevalent here, we can take heart that scientific evidence shows the harmful effects of marijuana as relatively minimal, far less harmful than alcohol and nicotine. In fact if any drug problem at Oberlin can be characterized as "serious," I think it is the nicotine problem, and obviously since cigarettes are legal, this problem cannot be addressed by harsh enforcement. To the extent that there is a drug problem here, the best way to address it is with education and counseling, not with police action which is inevitably ineffective and harmful.
You are also quoted as suggesting that the current College room search policy is illegal. I'm unsure what part of this policy you refer to, but I find it inconceivable that the aspects which emphasize and provide for student privacy and security could be in violation of law. If I were a tenant in an apartment in Ohio, my landlord would be legally required to give me 24 hours notice before entering my apartment. The College policy gives students exactly that privacy, and rightly - especially considering that many students are required to live in a dorm - as we should not have to relinquish our rights to attend Oberlin.
In general, Oberlin College is unusual in the respect given to students as responsible human beings. Oberlin, at the best of times, shows a genuine respect for the responsibility, liberty and autonomy of students. This is one of the main reasons I came here, and one of the things I like best about Oberlin now. We should develop this further, as it's what makes Oberlin unique and good, and it would be a terrible mistake to return to some outdated notion of acting in loco parentis in the name of drug enforcement. I value the College's respect for my privacy, liberty and autonomy as a person too highly for it to be sacrificed.
While I think everyone agrees that the College needs to refrain from violating any laws, I am concerned that vague hand waving about laws could be used to justify College policies that we would all be better without. I don't think any law prevents the College from giving students the privacy protections it does. Even in the issue of "bongs," or water pipes, that you bring up, it is my understanding that bongs can be bought legally in Ohio, and even the possession of a bong used for illegal purposes is only a civil infraction similar to a traffic ticket. Oberlin is obviously not legally required to punish people for getting tickets. To the extent we have latitude as to how we are to act, we as a community should make those decisions and not do anything under the guise of a legal obligation without being absolutely sure it is such.
The impact of the College's drug policies is wide ranging, affecting students' relationships with security and residential staff, privacy and liberty and the general atmosphere of student life. With that in mind, I believe that the current policy emphasizing "preventive and educational approaches to substance use and abuse" is ideal. I, and I am confident a large portion of the Oberlin College community as well, would be strongly opposed to changing this emphasis, which is what the effect of the policy changes you suggest would be.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 16; March 1, 1996
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