(featurecreature)– A student wrote the following letter by request of the Dean of Students in response to getting written up for smoking in her room:
Amherst can be an exciting social space, night and day, but recent, somewhat callous substance and party policies have left many often feeling desperate, abandoned, unsafe, and disrespected by the administration. I had the displeasure this past January of placing myself in a situation that I believe, had Amherst’s policy been amended in ways I will now suggest to you, I would not have so desperately engaged in. While I take full responsibility for my actions and recognize that what I was involving myself with on-campus was both illegal and, to some degree, unsafe, I do not think students at Amherst deserve the kind of fear and distress that seems to be a result of recent policy enforcement. I would like those in charge of making Amherst policy to reflect on the story that I share below as they continue to mold social regulations at this campus. To say that I was mortified to have endangered my education and presence at this institution through my actions in January would be the mother of all understatements. However, while my breach of policy was a uniquely terrible and terrifying situation for me, I think most of campus shares my frustrations at the current substance-related procedures and policy enforcements.
It is not a benchmark of Amherst students to want to destroy their minds and bodies through substance abuse, and it saddens me that the very institution that brings students here because of their intellectual promise would not share in my optimism. I think highly of my classmates, and I know many tried just as hard as me if not harder to become Amherst students. My fellow students and I live fairly stressful and responsibility-laden lives, so it seems appropriate that the traits that let us take on so many mature and responsible roles should also be reflected in our social lives. However, I and many of my friends feel that students have been recently treated like irresponsible children in regards to alcohol and other drugs. I do not think living fulfilling lives intellectually and socially is bad, and therefore do not recognize “work-hard-party-hard” sentiments as ever being wrong, but rather, misguided and misunderstood. Regulation of substances should encourage safe, non-addictive, and healthy habits that students can continue to apply to their lives after college; sadly, “AOD” regulation at Amherst seems to sometimes encourage frustration and a bitterness towards the very people charged with keeping us safe. Amherst social policy should promote a feeling of inclusion, safety, and respect, and this year I have seen many regard policy makers as people to fear. I have regrettably noticed that Amherst’s approach to drinking and drug use this past year appears akin to the “abstinence-only” approach to sex.
Amherst obviously recognizes that promoting abstinence-only sex programs is counterproductive to creating a safe, healthy, and intelligent atmosphere around sexual issues on campus. They respect the student body enough to not preach “no sex!” but instead provide safe outlets for sexual events to occur. Policy makers, and anyone with enough common sense, realize that no matter what, students on campus will have sex lives, and therefore must be provided with the knowledge and environment to make smart, safe, and respectful decisions. Amherst’s handling of sex education on campus should (and has, for the most part) left me feeling respected and empowered. While obviously our administration had some egregious missteps that came to the fore last semester, all in all Amherst’s policy on my own sexual behavior has been pretty much what I wanted out of a college institution. Amherst creates and promotes safe lifestyle choices surrounding sex that I, and many fellow students, will carry with them after graduating and therefore lead more successful, healthy lives. The successes of Amherst sex policies show in some ways much of what is wrong with Amherst’s recent treatment of social and AOD-related events on campus.
Amherst obviously does not and should not have the opportunity to turn a blind eye to illegal activities on campus. However, I would like to see an AOD equivalent of a safe-sex policy executed, not only on paper, but also in practice. While students are provided with plenty of literature about safely consuming alcohol, there does not seem to be nearly enough literature informing students how to make decisions about “other drugs.” I’d like to see the school reach out to students about the risks of being involved with drugs. Students should know exactly what kind of legal, psychological, and scholastic consequences they could face, and how they can safely navigate a campus where drug-access and use will always exist. Amherst drug-culture will not get safer from enforcement of penal policies that treat students like children; we need a system of education in place so that when making decisions about drugs (which most students will have to make) students can feel mature, informed, and responsible. There will always be a drug culture on campus, and Amherst’s best tool in dealing with drugs is to promote students’ education about their rights and responsibilities at Amherst and in the state of Massachusetts. Amherst Police should not be feared, but viewed as a resource for student information and safety.
The college police force is a blessing that frequently comes across as a curse in the eyes of most students involved in the typical Amherst nightlife. Sadly, I think both students’ personal reports of their treatment by campus police and their sometimes un-approachable nature has led to an extremely compromising and unhealthy divide. In my own case in January, I felt quite disrespected on multiple occasions by the Amherst police, even though they were entirely within their rights in terms of their interaction with me. They came into my room without my permission and accused me of acts of which they had no solid proof. The report sent in by college police about my infractions contained blatant falsehoods (some of the events in one report were not only inaccurate but physically impossible in the given situation). Of course, denying a police report about your own indiscretions felt like a poor defense. The report made me feel not only wrongly accused but personally attacked and trapped (though I do not think this was its intention). I trust the Amherst police with some aspects of my safety, but I now doubt if they really have what is best for me at heart. There was no reason to lie in that police report. It is incidents like this one that breed the unsafe combination of distrust and disrespect felt between campus police and the student body today. The dangers of Amherst nightlife do not reside in some girl’s dorm room with music and close friends, but in the unregulated nature of most large parties on campus. The key to avoiding these dangers is not in ending all social activities on campus by 11:30 pm, but in rebuilding the trust between students and policy-enforcers.
In regards to parties, I suggest once again a “safe-AOD” approach. If students could feel that every time they ran into a campus police officer the interaction would involve a certain amount of mutual respect and good will, many students would be more comfortable and even willing to have safety measures taken involving police presence at parties. Amherst needs to rip down the barrier between its students and party registration, so that drinking and other substance-use can occur in a regulated and therefore much safer way. Police presence should not deter students from engaging in campus-uniting social events, but should indeed comfort and encourage them that they are in a safe recreation-space. I would like to see every single party on campus registered if that would entail students feeling like the college was actually looking out for them and not just trying to identify and penalize “troublemakers” of every sort. Indeed, having police presence at a party would promote safe, healthy drinking habits and most likely fewer incidences of alcohol poisoning and alcohol-related assault. However, having a police presence break up any party that has a drinking element is a way to force students into desperate and dangerous corners. Students who attend parties at Amherst aren’t bad people, and having campus-uniting social events isn’t shameful, wrong, or something that has to be kept secret. Shutting down social events at Amherst creates a general discontent and promotes AOD recklessness and hidden binging. Instead of breaking up social events on campus, which forces students to engage in hidden, dispersed, ultimately lonely and more dangerous behavior, police should be implored to be watchful and helpful monitors of healthy, much needed, social activities.
In conclusion, I would like to express how fairly and respectfully I have been treated by the deans in my case. While my recent policy breach was my first interaction with the Amherst Administration, I know it will not be the last time I engage in dialogue with those who make Amherst social policy. While I will always regret that I made such careless decisions on campus with AOD, I am happy it has given me the opportunity to ask myself questions about social life here at Amherst that I otherwise would never have asked. This letter is only the beginning of what I hope becomes a continuing respectful campus-wide dialogue about the social life of Amherst.