By FRANCES WOMBLE
The Board of Visitors (BOV) announced on Sept. 15 that they revised the drug policy over the summer after continued student complaints that it was too harsh.
The previous one-strike policy read, “Violation of these [drug] policies will result in expulsion from the university.” The policy now states, “Students charged with violating any of these policies will be subject to judicial action.”
Sanctions of the new policy read, “Sanctions will vary depending on the type(s) and quantity of illegal drugs involved, and the nature of the violation . . . violations involving the apparent distribution, merchandising, or manufacturing of illegal drugs, regardless of type and quantity, are likely to result in permanent expulsion from this institution.”
The policy also informs the UMW community that marijuana possession might result in suspension from the current semester and could result in expulsion. Students found to be in possession of drug paraphernalia could face educational sanctions and/or community restitution, according to the new policy.
The BOV directed the policy revision, which is effective immediately, according to Vice President for Student Affairs Doug Searcy, Associate Vice President and Dean of Student Life Cedric Rucker and Director of Judicial Affairs and Community Responsibility Ray Tuttle.
Searcy, Rucker and Tuttle said students who were concerned about the severity of the one-strike policy initiated the conversation about a possible change.
Junior Kyle Swecker, president of UMW Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) was one of those students.
Swecker said he first met with Searcy about a year ago.
“He was very open-minded,” Swecker said.
The conversation continued in a variety of open forums and with the SGA Senate, according to Searcy, Rucker and Tuttle.
“The BOV asked for research on other university policies, the result of which indicated that UMW was not congruent with other Virginia institutions, or with COPLAC colleges and universities,” they said. “The BOV desired for our ‘zero tolerance’ Drug Policy at UMW to shift and become more in line with drug policies at comparable institutions.”
“I thank the administration for working closely with [SSDP],” Swecker said. “[The new policy] is a more sensible approach. I believe the [old] system is outdated. I don’t think if someone is caught with a joint they should be kicked out. We set up systems in our society, such as prison, for reform. And we weren’t doing that. It was one strike, you’re out.”
Although the policy has changed, administrators are not condoning drug use.
“Illegal drugs still have no place in the UMW community, and the possible sanctions, which still include expulsion, are severe, but now there is more latitude and discernment on the part of the hearing officer,” Searcy, Rucker and Tuttle said.
Many members of the UMW community think the new policy is practical and allows offenders to learn from their mistakes.
“I think that it reinforces the notion that our judicial system is educational and people are capable of learning from their mistakes,” Christine Porter, director of residence life, said. “While the repercussions are still very serious, there is an opportunity to return and make better choices in the future.”
Senior Erica Gouse agrees but feels the new policy is more ambiguous.
“It helps students who are doing a minor charge and want to repent,” she said. “But the old policy was more definitive, and students knew their boundaries. I’m worried the new policy might encourage students to be more lenient with the rules.”
However, Gouse also feels that the policy is more practical and allows students a second chance.
Senior Nick DeSarno, who was previously very active in trying to get the policy reformed and used to be a resident assistant, said that he thought the previous policy put RAs in a difficult position because they knew if they wrote a student up for marijuana use he or she would automatically be expelled.
Judicial Review Board President Evan Butler thinks the policy change occurred quickly.
“I wish there were more public knowledge of this policy change before it was enacted because it took me by surprise,” he said.
Swecker said he learned of the new policy implementation on Tuesday from Searcy.
“I’m still at a loss of words for how well this came together,” Swecker said. “The one-strike policy was based on fear and fear of the school. I think students will now hold their heads up higher to the administration. It doesn’t promote drug use, but the one-strike policy was like saying the school didn’t care.”
Associate Director of the national SSDP Stacia Cosner thinks the change speaks highly of the administration.
“The administration should be applauded for enacting a more tolerant approach,” she said. “It’s going to make a big difference in how students are treated. I was thrilled that the administrators encouraged students to be actively involved in the process. I’m pleasantly surprised on the attitude the administrators have presented.”
According to Searcy, Rucker and Tuttle, the policy revision shows how administrators consider feedback from the UMW community and how they examine school policies and make revisions and changes when needed.