Regardless of how you feel about the now infamous “drug scare” last week, there is no denying that the incident brought several important issues to light.
Let me begin by saying that, as one of the participants in the student protests against the change in policy, I am in agreement with members of the opposing “counter protest” on the issue of the inflammatory language which was used on the part of some (but certainly not most) of the protesters. To compare the Southwestern policy to Nazism was undoubtedly insensitive and arguably, inappropriate. I say “arguably” because the comparison was inappropriate as a matter of degree, not kind. Unjust power structures are unjust power structures; Nazi Germany represents history’s worst and most tragic example of this reality.
With that being said, the real issues of the situation are the breach of trust between the student body and the administration, as well as the issue of whether or not the power structure at Southwestern University is equally, if not more, inappropriate than the perceived “above average” drug use on campus.
Despite the hearsay and rumors, the student protest meetings were not composed of an irrational, hysterical, pitchfork-and-torch wielding mob, chanting “We want drugs! We want drugs!” The vast majority of the students who attended the impromptu meeting and sit-in were concerned with the administration’s silence in the face of such inflammatory rumors, as well as the rationale behind the change in policy. And without the collective action of the rallying students, the silence on the part of the administration would likely have continued.
Following Friday’s student body forum, the silence was ended and many of the rumors were dispelled. It remained clear, however, that the actions taken on the part of the administration were either directly, or partly derived from the results of a drug use survey administered in 2009. The survey, which was administered as part of a nationwide study, guaranteed anonymity but lacked other vital, ethical requirements (i.e., informing participants that the results would be made directly available to SU). Most students took time out of their busy schedules and participated honestly in the survey, believing that their results would help the cause of science and social research.
The real results, however, were a perceived betrayal by the administration and a serious breach in trust. The results of the survey apparently indicated that the rate of “drug” use at Southwestern was “above average” (although the types of drugs and the exact numbers remain unknown, as the administration has failed to make the results widely available to the student body).
As a result of these statistics, the administration chose to change its drug policy, threatening to arrest any students caught with a “usable amount” of drugs. Many students who participated in the survey felt that they were punished for their honesty and were concerned about the dubious ethical standards surrounding the conditions of informed consent, which requires rese
archers to disclose any information that might affect participants decision to take part, and implications of the study results.
Despite the reported “above average” drug use, Southwestern remains one of the best institutions of higher learning in Texas. The students are hardworking, intelligent, and passionate about the issues that surround them. It seems irrational that the administration would react so rashly to the results of the survey, despite the fact that those who live and work closely with the student body do not consider drugs to be a major problem. And whether or not the actions of the administration were unethical, they are likely to have a negative effect on the veracity and accuracy of any student surveys in years to come.
The incident also highlighted another issue between the student body and the administration. Many, like myself, saw the infamous email (and the permitted deluge of rumors that followed) as a fear mongering tactic intended to “scare the students straight.”
Whether or not this is true is debatable, but it is clear that the email highlighted a flaw in the power structure between Southwestern students and administration and left many questions. Why did the administration not choose to share the results of the survey with the student body and attempt to resolve the situation more democratically, before making a change in policy that could drastically affect the lives of many of Southwestern’s best and brightest students? How would arresting students for possession of minor amounts of marijuana (as the email stated, and as Williamson County Law Enforcement already does) contribute to a positive learning atmosphere or “help [students] successfully graduate from Southwestern”?
And perhaps most importantly, why should the administration hold such a great amount of non-transparent power over the student body? Do we not comprise a significant part of the university, both economically and philosophically? Just because something is illegal, does that make it immoral?
For an idea on how to better run the university, we should look to Reed College as an example. Reed, which is one of the best liberal arts institutions in the United States (and is the only school in the country to have a nuclear reactor operated by undergraduates), features no codified rules for governing behavior. Rather, the student body operates off of an Honor Principle wherein the students and community decide which behaviors are acceptable and which are not.
Are we not adults? Isn’t the purpose of our institution to foster growth as individuals? Perhaps the administration should take this into consideration.