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Sunday, October 19, 2014

High and Mighty

I blame Colorado mostly. Nearly any conversation with a student or a parent regarding our drug policy and state drug laws eventually includes a reference to Rocky Mountain High. It has become the "my friends don't have a curfew!" of marijuana discussions.

I don't want to confuse any portions of this post with the facts. Nearly all of the facts related to marijuana can be disputed. Students on college campuses everywhere have done great research to de-bunk any claims of harm that comes from smoking weed. I think if some studied their course work with as much passion as they researched marijuana we would be a far smarter nation.

So here are some things I will stay away from arguing: Marijuana may or may not be addictive. It may or may not have long-term health risks. Its legalization may or may not benefit or hurt Central American producers and distributors and drug kingpins. Everyone may or may not do it. Smoking pot may or may not increase the popularity of potato chip nachos at Mabee Hall. Getting high may be considered trendy, funny, cool, hip, and natural. Smoking pot may shrink ones testicle's and it may sap one of energy and drive.  Pot is or isn't a gateway drug. It may or may not be true that those from privileged white backgrounds are jailed far less than impoverished black men with few options to get ahead in the ghettos and educational systems they were born into. (Okay, I am pretty sure that one is true.)

Most universities are required by law to enforce drug policies or risk losing financial aid. One day that may change. At Trinity we don't allow 21-year-olds to have hard liquor on campus even if they may have it legally off-campus. This is to deter binge-drinking, not that it is particularly effective. So if and when Texas legalizes marijuana I still wouldn't want it permitted on campus.

Mercifully, here is my sure to be unpopular hypothesis: College campuses are no places for drugs, including marijuana. I have my reasons.

1. I believe two primary things about college. First, colleges are places of higher learning. We have communities of scholars and we espouse that we are building global citizens for a better world. A quarter of the population makes it to college and far less graduate. It is a rare and special privilege. Students nationwide will eventually cure cancer, find ways to distribute clean water to all peoples, and hopefully one day cancel the Big Bang Theory from network television.

Second, I believe for traditional age students that college is a safe place to make mistakes and grow from them. It is dynamic and fun and students are meeting others from different backgrounds, having late-night conversations over pizza and cereal, and are finding out who they are and their place in the world.

Somehow along the way, and I blame movies mostly, and some people like me who partied hard in college, we have defined college culture as "work hard/play hard," with playing hard being binge drinking and smoking dope. That all may have flown when I was paying hundreds of dollars for tuition. That is less the case today. When I do parental notifications related to drug offenses usually the parent and the dean are aligned on one thing: With what it costs to go to college, students may need to choose between their education and their entertainment. I suspect too that our students are far more comfortable lighting up in their campus dorm rooms than their bedrooms in Houston.

2. I don't really care if people get high. It is kind of their business. I know guns don't kill people, people do. I know that some people drink too much and are predisposed or simply become alcoholics. I know some students get addicted to video games and Yik Yak. And some students get addicted to pot. Several students have left our own campus in the last two years as a direct consequence of their drug use (not because of policy violations either). I guess it is their fault. But smoking isn't as harmless as it seems and it has real-life negative consequences for some of our students. There are an estimated 1,800 alcohol-related college deaths annually. It seems we are okay with that (except probably for the friends and families of those 1,800 students I would think). Choices and consequences... Marijuana has far fewer short-term negative consequences than alcohol, so it seems benign to most students. But there are costs. Are we okay with that too?

Many students are on medication that doesn't mix well with alcohol and drugs. And many students find that smoking pot numbs their pain and is the only way to feel good. It is called self-medicating. And if it becomes the only way to feel normal or better it can be a problem.

3. I actually hate myself for saying this, but I just don't like the drug culture. Admittedly, when I was growing up it was impressed upon me that tripping on acid would result in horrible things like trying to fly from atop a tall building, running naked through the streets, death, becoming a drug dealer, or over-focusing on the fact that the background in most Flintstones clips repeats.

I just think it is weird. We are not the Trinity Tokers. Our dorms should not smell like incense and pot. We are not head shops. And no campus wants drug dealers packing heat roaming the residence halls. (Ironically, students who buy and distribute for their friends don't consider themselves dealers - just good friends.) I don't like the word "weed" or the term "high." I don't like cute little posters, shirts, or hats about marijuana. I don't like grinders, scales, rolling papers, and towels under the door and people calling each other dude. It just seems beneath people. I also have met many students who just are bad at drugs. They are not pot-heads. They are pretending to be pot-heads, much like I thought I was the Marlboro man in college. I don't know that I was fooling anyone and neither are many of our students.

In short, despite the perception in my own mind of being somewhat cool, I am just an old fart. I hate that.

To summarize:
I don't really care if people want to smoke pot as long as they take it off campus. I don't really care that it is illegal or not, except I think poor people are dying in drug wars so people of privilege can get high once in awhile. I don't like that drugs short-circuit the lives and educations of some of our students. I don't like that as a society we have somehow connected college to drugs and binge-drinking. I never could really get into the Grateful Dead, but I tried.

I love our students who smoke pot as much as the ones who don't. I just don't like pot. For me it is less legal, ethical and moral than it is practical. To that end, my guess is the way most campuses will better enforce drug policies is to go smoke-free. We are headed that way at Trinity and it has nothing to do with pot. It isn't an end-run. But it may be the best way to make our colleges, with their high costs and aspirations, more of what  they should be. And for the students who want to still get high - they can still find a way. They just shouldn't do it here.

3 comments:

Chris Goshell said...

Agreed! Pot is a known demotivator! As you said, with the great privilege of attending college today (just 25%) coupled with the extremely high cost, what possible good is anything on campus that serves to demotivate these young minds?!

diane said...

Diane Murrell: I agree w/the notion that school costs more than ever and given the $ sacrifices families make I'm irritated when students feel they are entitled to any and all entertainment at college. It is difficult to convey the privilege of college to most students at this stage of their youth and immature frontal lobes.I appreciate Trinity's volunteer ethic as one of the ways to offset that.

Thato M. said...

I do agree with what you said about the image of college being one of incessant partying, very little studying and laughs over almost missing deadlines and barely making a pass grade. But I think that's mainly due to the fact that we are taught that college is "the best four years of your life," not that, college should be the place where you set foundations for your life. My friend observed that, if done right, college should be a place where you mentally exert yourself, not just fatigue from partying, but I must admit that when you say no to that party on the weekend, it's easy to feel that a "college experience" is being missed out on! And there is only ever one image of college fun thrown our way, and it sure doesn't contain days at the museum or nights at the symphony! "You can study later, but you can't party later," "Cs get degrees," and all that jazz seem to be the motto we're told to live by, and the fear that there will be no chance to have a fun time after college and as you said, this is a place where we can make mistakes, and therefore should make mistakes is what fuels the fire. So there must be a shift from "best four years," to a place where you set yourself up for a better life, and one with many resources that we might not have available to use later on, because the club scene will always exist, but state-of-the-art facilities, great professors and fertile minds of our peers won't, and it's hard to miss that picture tucked behind the "fun" collegiate experience one.