Administration introduces final revisions to the AOD Policy: The review team hosts an open forum; students protest lack of involvement

Posted by Julia Leef

In an open forum Feb. 28, members of Health Promotions, Residential Life and the Student Assessment and Intervention Group, including Dean of Student Affairs Rochelle Calhoun and Director of Residential Life Don Hastings, introduced the final revisions to the Alcohol and Other Drugs Policy.

After receiving multiple complaints and criticisms from the student body regarding changes to the AOD Policy last semester, most notably regarding the "In the Presence of" clause, which holds any underage student accountable for being in the presence of illegal substances, the administration decided to revise the policy in accordance with student concerns.

Last semester, 14 students received first warnings for the violation of this clause. No one received a second offense.

At the open forum, Calhoun said the "In the Presence of" clause would change to "In the presence of Alcohol in the Residence Halls or at an unauthorized event." However, in an email later sent out to the student body on March 6, Calhoun announced that further change would be instigated.

"Since our AOD Open Forum, we have given further consideration to the important concerns that students continued to share about the possible unintended consequence of a violation that feels punitive to those who are attempting to act responsibly," Calhoun said. "We have been persuaded that removing this [clause] as a violation of the Alcohol and Other Drug policy is an appropriate response to those concerns and supports the continued enhancement of a culture of responsibility."

Calhoun also said the faculty would introduce a point reduction program, which would be based on students contributing something to the community. Opportunities may include attending and participating in a Red Watch Band program and completing five to 10 hours of community service.

Several students brought up the question of cultural differences and expectations in regards to the statement that informs students that their parents will be notified following a violation of the AOD policy. The review team determined that, while the rule would not be removed from the policy, the College would be willing to work with students on a case-by-case basis to address individual circumstances.

The review team also decided to revise the AOD policy to clarify the language of the consequences for violation at levels four and five to emphasize that dismissal is an option, rather than automatic, as some students believed.

During the open forum, one student raised the question of cultural exception, such as hookah with tobacco, which is considered less taboo than alcohol in the Middle East, where he lived before enrolling in the College. This is considered a violation of the AOD policy.

"As we become a more culturally diverse community, these things will come up, and perhaps cause tension. I hear you," Calhoun said, adding that there would be no revisions addressing this concern at this time.

Another student asked for clarification on how the policy reflects New York state law, especially concerning the matter of false IDs, which are considered a felony under law, but only a level four violation, which is lower than some misdemeanors on level five. Hastings explained that for terrorism, a false ID is a felony, but in most cases it is merely a misdemeanor.

Hastings also shared statistical information during the open forum from the past four fall semesters, which indicated a reduction in the number of violations from 248 in 2008 to 152 in 2011, a drastic drop from 277 in 2010. Educational sanctions for marijuana dropped from 27 to six, and the Under-the-Influence program from 84 to 16.

"Are people drinking any less? I don't know," Hastings said. "But people are at least being wiser."

The number of off-campus parties decreased from 17 in 2010 to zero in 2011, which also happen to be the same statistics for student arrests from AOD related charges from 2010 to 2011. This information was also released in the email Calhoun sent out to the student body.

"Students expressed concerns that the decrease in violations may represent the fact that drinking is being pushed off-campus," Calhoun said, adding that the data provided by the Saratoga Springs Police Department indicated that this was not the case.

Despite these reductions, the number of transport requests to the hospital has not decreased, with 11 in 2008, 10 in 2009, 20 in 2010, and 16 in 2011.

"It is our hope that this demonstrates that students are still making the important and right choice to seek help for themselves and their friends when needed," Calhoun said.

At the end of the open forum, however, students expressed their disappointment with the lack of student involvement and ability to suggest revisions during the forum itself. Jonathan Zeidan '12, president of the Student Government Association, asked why students were not more involved in the revision process.

"I thought the review committee had students on it," Calhoun said. "All that I can say is that I think students should have been invited from the beginning."

A date has not yet been determined for these revisions to be put into effect, although Calhoun said she plans to announce the date soon.

There is a small working group developing a proposal to the Institutional Policy and Planning Committee for the Policy on the Development and Modification of College Policies. This proposal will address the lack of students' roles in the development and revision of policies. Students will later have the opportunity to review and revise this new policy.

"As I expressed at the Open Forum, I believe that student involvement makes for good policy," Calhoun said. "It is my expectation that, working with SGA, there will be an opportunity for students to review the policy. I hope to reaffirm my support for student involvement in policy making and learn more about student concerns through these discussions."

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