I have a proposal for our students, which my friends at the Trinitonian will love, because they want more student involvement in decision-making. I say we leave decisions about smoking in the dorms up to the residents. ASR passed a resolution this year that would ban smoking from within 50* feet of building entrances. The Safety and Health committee and Faculty Senate are considering the recommendations related to non-residential facilities. The Residential Life Office has the authority to set smoking policies for the dorms and will respect the 50 foot rule (from main entrances) as proposed. Of course, there would continue to be no smoking in designated substance-free and LEEDS-certified buildings.
ASR stopped short of banning smoking from student balconies, which our current policy permits. (Smoking is not allowed inside any campus building). ASR learned that sometimes you have to choose between two noble values: In this case health/rights of one group versus the freedoms of another. This is the learning environment the liberal arts should promote. ASR chose freedom. That is not surprising for college students. This all stemmed from growing complaints from students about those who smoke on nearby balconies. In the recent diploma debate, ASR chose the rights of the minority (by number) over another important value.
Through this post (take the poll at right) Residential Life is soliciting opinions about a new policy that would prohibit student smoking on balconies unless voted otherwise by the residents of the specific dorms. By allowing smoking on balconies now, the Res Life Office is taking sides in a way, not unlike ASR. We have apparently sided with the freedom to smoke, which again, I generally support based on my own college experience. But really, our choice should be, in this situation, about the right of the majority - the group who wants to be heard related to their rights to live smoke-free - to live in the freedom that they choose. (A survey showed recently that non-smokers would support a balcony smoking ban.) By placing the onus on the smokers to appeal to the entire in their building it gives them responsibility for making their case to smoke. That case would have to be made to their peers who live in the same building. This takes the administration/staff out of it and leaves the entire issue to the students.
The only downside to this is the perception of the Pontius Pilate approach - simply washing our hands of the issue. But the choices are to leave the policy the same (which means we have taken sides), to ban smoking on balconies (which means we are taking sides), or to let the students in each dorm decide. This will allow all students to learn what ASR did. Taking sides isn't always as easy as it looks.
*The ASR standard was 15 feet, but LEEDS policies and most ordinances target the 50 foot distance.