Fight to End Zero Tolerance
The University of Mary Washington’s one-strike drug policy has been criticized by students on a yearly basis as both antiquated and unfair.
Despite motions in Student Senate and petitions to various levels of student leadership, attempts to alter the current policy have failed.
Sophomore Nick DeSarno hopes to change that.
Last year, a friend of DeSarno’s was caught with marijuana and withdrew from the university before his Judicial Review Board hearing.
According to DeSarno, the student left the university because he felt that the pressure of the one-strike policy prevented a fair trial.
This incident, coupled with an unrelated speech by Dr. Raymond Tuttle, the director of judicial affairs and community responsibility, inspired DeSarno to act.
“Last year, Dr. Tuttle talked about community values,” DeSarno said. “What our rules are, what our policies are.”
To DeSarno, the one-strike drug policy is not in line with the community values of UMW and needs a change. Specifically, DeSarno hopes the administration will implement a two-strike drug policy.
“It’s about bringing the community together,” DeSarno said, “not closing doors on them, which is what these policies do.”
An alternative to the ‘zero tolerance’ drug policy is nothing new for Virginia universities.
According to the drug policies of the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, and George Mason University, instances of drug possession or use are decided on a case-by-case basis.
The policies state that a variety of punishments will be considered, ranging from drug counseling to expulsion. According to Virginia Tech’s ‘zero tolerance’ drug policy, students guilty of drug-related infractions are usually suspended for a year.
The UMW drug policy, on the other hand, states that “students charged with violating any of these policies will be subject to judicial action. Violation of these policies will result in expulsion from the university.”
On Jan. 27, DeSarno met with Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Doug Searcy to discuss changes to the drug policy.
“The meeting overall was really optimistic,” DeSarno said. “I feel that Searcy is the voice for students on campus.”
Searcy had a similarly positive response to the meeting.
“It has been brought to my attention that a number of students are interested in dialogue regarding alternatives to the current university drug policy,” Searcy said. “At this point I won’t speculate on possible outcomes of that discussion, but I can commit to full participation and engagement on the part of the administration.”
DeSarno plans on setting up a table in the Eagle’s Nest soon to collect signatures for a petition, as well as visiting various student groups, speaking before Student Senate, and going from dorm to dorm to garner support for a change to the current drug policy.
Samantha Miller, the student government association president, also expressed an interest in addressing this issue.
“I and many students I’ve talked to support a policy similar to the alcohol policy,” Miller said. “Three strikes seems reasonable. It’s an issue that should be discussed.”
Students have their own opinions about the one-strike policy.
“I think you should get two chances,” senior Amanda Herring said. “A one strike policy seems to be more about punishing students than helping them.”
Junior Cara MacDonald appeared doubtful.
“I’m not too hopeful that any changes will actually come,” MacDonald said. “We’ve passed bills through the student government before just to be simply discarded and not given any thought. The students on this campus have shown that this policy is unfair and outdated.”
However, some students feel a change to the policy would have a negative impact.
“It’s against the law,” senior James Martin said. “Beyond that, it’s about safety. People on drugs do stupid things that endanger themselves and others. Plus, it’s not like the policy is that strict. Just don’t do drugs or store them on campus. If you can’t figure that out, you certainly don’t belong in college.”
To DeSarno, this attempt to change the current rule is about more than just drug policy.
“Our community values are not being respected with this policy,” DeSarno said. “Me leading this will not help. It will have to be a community effort. We’re not helping ourselves. We’re not advocating for ourselves.”