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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Drug and alcohol policy is ‘out of touch’

Published: December 5, 2008
Section: Opinions

One Saturday evening earlier this semester a group of sophomores put on music and cracked open a few beers in a Castle single. At about 12:30 a.m. a CA knocked on their door and asked them to lower the music.

Although the room’s resident happily agreed, the CA called him outside and accused, “I saw beers in there.”

None of the friends inside were of legal drinking age, but none of them were belligerently or dangerously drunk. The CA nonetheless insisted on entering the room, collecting the beer and escorting the resident to a sink where the CA watched him pour it all out.

Afterward, the CA lamented something like, “I hated doing that, but I had to.”

Some other evening, another group stood just beside the courtyard separating the Village from Slosberg sharing a marijuana cigarette when another student approached.

Announcing his position as a CA, this student insisted that the group cease smoking there and demanded that the group throw the spliff aside even after they offered to move out of sight. Although confrontations like these are ultimately unnecessary, they are unfortunately common when some of our CAs choose to enforce an ineffective and out-of-touch drug and alcohol policy.

What is a sensible drug policy? While one may argue the legal, medical and social implications of drug use, any policy must ultimately be based on responsibility.

Moreover, the policy must take into account the sensibilities and habits of community which is expected to abide by it.

By this we arrive at a basic standard: Any behavior that reflects complete disregard for the needs of one’s neighbors is unacceptable, regardless of whether or not drugs or alcohol are involved.

A majority of Brandeis students do not endorse, by their behavior, the University’s fundamentally abstinence-based approach to drugs and alcohol.

It seems clear then that the student body would overwhelmingly prefer a more tolerant policy that acknowledges alcohol and drug use, discourages abuse and respects people’s choices. A community standard, by its very nature, must be reflexive; it cannot come from on high and must reflect careful deliberation by the community about its wants and needs. Moreover, it ought to encourage any behaviors that build community and enhance enjoyment therein.

The community has to take back the right to establish its own standards.

What does it mean that Brandeis calls its student residence life employees community, rather than resident advisors? A true community advisor is not an enforcer or a guard, but a friendly counselor and an advocate. Their loyalty ought to lie with the student body, their peers, rather than with the administration.

Regardless of what the rules state, CAs ought to support students’ recreational activities of choice and should never write them up for behavior that violates regulations levied by those outside of the immediate community.

“But it’s illegal!”

While it is obvious that underage drinking and drug use are illegal, illegality is not a rigorous argument for not doing something–alcohol, after all, was prohibited from 1920 to 1933 and in Massachusetts, as in several other states, the consequence for possession of marijuana was recently reduced to a civil penalty. Furthermore, Brandeis student behavior indicates widespread disbelief about the “inherent wrongness” of drugs and alcohol.

Nullifying, as a community, those policies that prohibit actions that are not inherently wrong would allow CAs to more effectively advise residents on drug and alcohol use and reduce tensions between them and their residents, their peers.

How should the administration act? Ideally, it would condone and foster responsible drug and alcohol use so that a greater majority of it would happen responsibly and within an informed and cohesive community.

Since it is unfortunately unlikely that the administration will ever condone illegal activities, it should instead turn a blind eye to them. This requires that students acquire knowledge about these activities and practice them responsibly.

Thankfully, there are numerous CAs who observe a policy more consistent with what we’ve suggested here.

Still too many act complacently as an enforcer serving regulations that don’t make sense.

Instead of intensifying students’ fears that their peers might write them up for perfectly reasonable behavior, CAs should side with the student body in observing unspoken rules of tolerance, ignoring the insufficient status quo and nurturing community.