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The Blue & Gray Press | December 12, 2018

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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.”


  1. Mike

    I remember when he was campaigning for Honor Council pres, James Martin told me that he’d support a change in the policy. Glad he didn’t get elected.

  2. James Martin

    Mike, What I told you is that Honor Council President has nothing to do with the drug policy and as such I didn’t have an answer for you. I think you just heard what you wanted to hear. I told Cara MacDonald that I was opposed to changing the policy when she asked (before the election) and that sure as heck didn’t help me win her vote.

    It’s commonsense, if you don’t like it and want to do drugs on campus… go to another school.

  3. Shannon Brown

    To Mike, and everyone else getting so upset about UMW’s drug policy, James Martin is absolutely right: if you want to do drugs on campus, go to another school. It is absurd if you really think our “community values” are being violated by banning drug use. And if you just can’t get by at UMW without drugs, there is a simple solution: go off campus.

  4. Jacki

    I really don’t think this desire to update the policy is about letting students do drugs all they want. I feel the reason many people feel it’s outdated or unfair is because college is a time for exploring who we are and trying new things, within reason, of course. I don’t think it’s fair to expel a student because they got caught their first time trying something illegal. Obviously, since it’s illegal, though, the real “authorities” should deal with the incidents as far as punishment, and the school should be, not to be sarcastic, but maybe teaching the students? I feel the policy is unrealistic not because students shouldn’t be reprimanded for illegal activity, but rather because it doesn’t separate school and law. Let them be dealt with legally outside the school and dealt with educationally and with counseling by the school.

    Let’s be real, here, for a second. If a student gets busted walking around high and giggling at funny shapes in the clouds, should he really be punished more by the school than the drunk, underage student breaking bottles on the sidewalk and getting into fights?