UMW SSDP ends a zero tolerance drug policy

Last December, the University of Mary Washington Bullet reported on a meeting of the Board of Visitors where the campus “one-strike” policy was discussed:

Searcy wanted to reassure the board that the university’s devotion to upholding and enforcing the one-strike policy was still strong, but a few members of the board expressed some concern over the message that the policy sends.

Board member Joe Wilson called the policy “somewhat draconian” and made the suggestion that the policy be rewritten to say that students with drug violations “may” instead of “will” be expelled.

“One puff on a marijuana cigarette and you’re out?” said Wilson, “I feel like a lot of people at this table wouldn’t have made it through this institution.”

Board member Martha Leighty expressed concern that the zero-tolerance policy may actively prevent students from coming forward about a friend’s substance problems. She requested that Searcy look into policies at other colleges and report back to the board.

Upon learning about this issue, our UMW SSDP chapter sprung into action.  A discussion arose in the chapter’s Facebook group about how they could get involved and make their voices heard on this issue.  After strategizing and planning over the winter break, the chapter organized an open forum on the “one-strike” policy on April 20, 2011.

The UMW Bullet reported on the open-minded approach that many administrators took in addressing this issue and the importance placed on involving students in the policy making process.

President Rick Hurley and the Vice President of Student Affairs, Doug Searcy were among the 23 attendees to listen and respond to the opinions expressed at the student forum.

Also during the discussion, senior Gilmore McLean said, “I feel dis-empowered as a student because we have to keep asking the administration what do they want, but we are the students paying to attend here – it should be what we want, and I’m a dissatisfied customer.”

This was the first time Hurley 1attended an SSDP meeting.

In addition, Searcy said will come to any future discussions and encouraged the students to “Beat the thing up so that when you walk out you know you’re doing the right thing for Mary Washington.”

In a meeting yesterday between UMW SSDP chapter president, Kyle Swecker and Vice President of Student Affairs, Doug Searcy, he was happy to inform the students that they did indeed decide to implement a more sensible policy to replace the “one strike” approach.

Before the change the policy stated: “Violation of these [drug] policies will result in expulsion from the university”. (UMW Bullet: 12/1/10 “BOV Considers Drug Policy”)

Now it reads:  “Students charged with violating any of these [drug] policies will be subject to judicial action.” (Judicial Affairs webpage on drug policy)

We commend this step away from overly punitive sanctions that can pose significant hardships on students.  It reflects a genuine harm reduction attitude on behalf of the UMW administration, sending the message that the health, fairness, and well-being of the campus community is paramount to imposing harsh punishments in an attempt to enforce a strictly zero-tolerance drug policy.

Congratulations to Kyle and all of the members of UMW SSDP who helped make this change happen!

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