ISSUE TOOLKIT: CAMPUS CHANGE
Be the sensible voice of your campus
We all know that the War on Drugs is really a war on people, especially students. Whether it is being suspended for a small amount of cannabis, being harassed by campus police, or not feeling empowered to call for help during a drug-related emergency, many SSDP members first witnessed the harms caused by the drug war on their college campuses. As students on college campuses, SSDPers have a unique opportunity to take the lead in formulating and enacting alternative drug policies.
SSDP was founded on the principle that no one should be denied fair access to an education because of drug use, and policy reform at the campus level remains a key part of our work as a network. While there are plenty of organizations out there working to end the War on Drugs at municipal, state, federal, and international levels, none have been as successful as SSDP at changing drug policies on college campuses. SSDP is the place students can go to when they feel they have no other supporters on campus, and serves an essential function as a safe space to openly talk about drugs and drug policies without stigma. We provide both an opposing voice to the status quo that many campus administrations prop up and a platform for fostering new ideas around how to make college campuses safer for people who use drugs.
This toolkit will go over some of the most common problems our members see with campus drug policies and offer some ideas for how to start engaging campus stakeholders on these issues. It will also provide some resources for getting campaigns up and running. As always, an SSDPers best resource is going to be their SSDP team member, so please be sure to coordinate with them as well as your chapter develops a plan to change campus drug policies. If you are unsure of who that is, please contact email@example.com to get connected.
Colleges and universities are beholden to protecting students’ health and safety and are able to most effectively do so through proven, evidence-based harm reduction and public health strategies. Colleges — places where evidence and inquiry should be valued most highly — should adopt policies that do not punish students with threats of eviction, suspension, or other harsh measures that undermine students’ ability to access education. Such measures might include Call 911 Good Samaritan policies, evidence-based alcohol and other drug education for students and administrators, access to naloxone and other harm reduction tools, and restorative justice programs.
SSDP has developed a Campus Policy Gradebook that grades schools on a comprehensive rubric. SSDP members are encouraged to submit updates to their school’s grades every year to demonstrate the progress (or lack of progress) their campus is making on implementing safer policies on drugs.
Each school has different things to consider when drafting a campus drug policy; ideally, drug policies are localized to address the primary issues surrounding substance use on each campus. A comprehensive policy will consider the following issues:
Calling for help should never be considered a crime. However, every year many students are placed into a situation where they must choose between calling 911 to seek emergency help for a friend or staying silent so no one gets in trouble for drug use. It is ridiculous that any student should be forced to make this choice. Good Samaritan Policies, also known as Medical Amnesty, empower students to make life-saving decisions by offering immunity from any illegal activity that might be taking place during an emergency. These policies are crucial on college campuses where students may be thrust into this situation for the first time in their lives.
Advocating for a Good Samaritan Policy is a great campaign to start with if you are looking for something to get your SSDP chapter off the ground.
Private prison corporations in the US profit off of mass incarceration, detention of undocumented immigrants, and uphold institutionalized violence against the nation’s most marginalized communities. These institutions are also notorious for high rates of violence and sexual assault. Some refer to this system of exploitation for profit as the Prison Industrial Complex. Many US schools, such as Princeton or Harvard, hold stock investments in companies that contract with both private prisons and immigrant detention centers. Prison divestment is a growing movement among students across the country to demand their schools renounce their holdings in the private prison industry. As students working to end mass incarceration due to the War on Drugs, ending the privatization of prisons is a key part of our work. If your campus does not already have a prison divestment movement, consider allying with other campus groups to get one started up.
Organizing a campaign around prison divestment is also a great opportunity to do some coalition-building with other like-minded groups on campus. A great place to start if you are interested in this campaign is to check out the Private Prison Divestment Campaign Toolkit compiled by Enlace. They also have other resources you can use for your campaign on their website.
At some schools, students can be kicked out of their on-campus housing with little to no notice if they are caught with drugs. This places an immense burden on the shoulders of that student to find a place to sleep, a place to store their personal belongings, and a way to pay for new housing all while additionally going through the campus judicial process. Kicking students out of housing is cruel and often is the same as expelling the student outright. Even for students who do manage to find alternative housing, the financial stress and additional burdens will impede their ability to perform well academically.
All students deserve the right to a fair and impartial judicial process when being accused of breaking campus policies around drug use. Many SSDP chapters have taken note that campus judicial processes do not often provide an objective platform for examining a case and are not inclusive of faculty or other students. At some schools, there may be just one or two people making all decisions on misconduct cases, while at others, students may never get a fair opportunity to tell their side of a story. It is crucial that all judicial decisions on campus are subjected to peer input/review, are as open and transparent as possible, and contain student input / involvement in judicial decisions if possible.
When it comes to drugs, misconduct violations on campus should stay on campus. Yet many schools will call in local law enforcement to deal with drug-related charges on students. This can not only result in additional penalties being placed on students, but can cause a stressful and even traumatic experience for the student for a very insignificant offense. Local law enforcement should only intervene on campus when there is imminent danger to someone’s life and campus police are unable to handle the situation on their own.
Decades of research has proved that on college campuses, alcohol use causes much more serious problems than marijuana use on college campuses. So why, then, are the penalties for using marijuana so much higher than the penalties for underage drinking on most campuses? Most administrations will respond that that are just following state and federal laws and that they can lose funding if they loosen penalties. However, this needs to be taken into context. While it is true that a campus can be in violation of Title IV and lose federal funding if they don’t enforce marijuana prohibition on campus, the level of severity of these sanctions are entirely up to the school. This means that it is within a school’s power to make using marijuana a small slap on the wrist rather than something that warrants suspension or expulsion from campus.
Despite their legal jurisdiction ending at the borders of campus, many schools will enforce drug policies even if the incident in question occurred off-campus. Part of the job of a university is to prepare students to become responsible participants in society, yet set a poor example themselves by parenting students when it is not their place to do so. What students do off-campus should be of no concern to the university and enforcement of these policies off-campus only serves to create more ways to punish students.
As more and more states legalize or expand access to marijuana for medicinal purposes, patients on campus are finding that campus policies are still prohibiting them from medicating. People who use marijuana for medical reasons are no different than any other student on campus who needs to take medication, and deserve a space to be able to consume without fear of punishment. Enforcing these policies on medical patients could put students at risk by forcing them to go off-campus to consume and places even more stress onto students who already have a lot on their shoulders to deal with.
Campus administrators will often notify parents of any drug-related misconduct by a student, regardless of that student’s personal relationship with their parents. Often, this can cause unneeded stress or fractures within a family, amplified by whatever penalties a student might be facing for misconduct. The university administration needs to treat students like adults if they want them to act responsibly. It should be the student’s responsibility and choice to inform their parents of any sanctions the school is placing against them.
Any student could one day find themselves in a position where they are too impaired to drive and/or do not feel safe walking home after a night out. Safe ride programs provide a free, non-judgmental ride to and from any destination on or close to campus for students who need it. Some SSDP chapters operate safe ride programs on their own, while others have successfully lobbied their schools to implement one. These programs are essential towards keeping students safe.
Not all schools employ the proper personnel to handle issues related to problematic substance use. In these cases, the school needs to either hire someone with experience in addiction treatment or form a relationship with a local treatment center to refer students who feel like they need help. It can be quite damaging for someone who is not properly trained in treatment & prevention to be tasked with talking to students about problematic substance use, and increases student’s trust in the administration to know that there is a trained professional on staff to talk with.
In this era of prohibition, no school has just one issue to solve with their drug policy. Nor will any school be open to a total overhaul of their policies over just one or two years. For this reason, it is recommended that your chapter select 1-2 specific policy changes that you would like the school to implement over the course of a school year and make them your primary campaigns. Once you demonstrate to the campus administration, your student allies, and the rest of the student body that your SSDP chapter is an effective force for change, you will find it is much easier to introduce new policy change ideas in the future since you’ll have a good working relationship with all parties.
So how do you go about choosing just 1 or 2 things to tackle when there is so much wrong with your campus drug policy? There are a couple of ways you can identify which issues are most pressing:
If you’re really having trouble figuring out a campus policy change campaign to run, a Good Samaritan Policy/Medical Amnesty campaign is always a great place to start since it demonstrates to the administration that the primary goal of your chapter is to make students on campus safer. See what kind of policy your school has on the books already and discuss how it could be improved. Perhaps the policy covers the caller, but not bystanders. Maybe it only covers alcohol and you can advocate for expanding it to all drugs. Or maybe your school has a great policy on the books, but needs help educating other students that it exists. Remember, a Good Samaritan Policy is only effective if people know about it.
Finally, remember to always talk to your SSDP team member about any ideas your chapter has for a campus policy change campaign. They have been in your shoes before and can provide you with advice and resources that will help you figure out what your chapter should focus on. If you are not sure which member of the SSDP tem to contact, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and you will be connected with the appropriate person.
Now that you know what kind of policy change your chapter is going to be advocating for, the next thing to consider is what specific policy changes you are asking for. This is the part of the process that will require some research and planning with your entire chapter and is a great way to delegate work to multiple members.
Here are the key questions you’ll need to answer at this stage to kick-off your campaign:
At this point you should know what kind of policy change you are fighting for and have a general idea of what language needs to be changed in order to implement it. You should also have conducted some preliminary outreach to other student allies, as well as faculty members and administrators if any might be useful. Now it’s time to talk about the various tactics you can utilize to push your campaign forward.
Below are just a few examples of things your chapter can do to advocate for policy change, but we encourage you to be creative and think up some out of the box ideas for your campaign. Your SSDP team member can also help you with brainstorming ideas.
Start a Dialogue with a Decision Maker
This should be the first thing you do, even if you have already been in contact with a member of the administration. Try and set up a face to face meeting with the person(s) responsible for overseeing the policy you are trying to change. Ask if you can stop by their office hours with a few of your chapter members. Be sure to outline your concerns with the policy and your suggested changes when you ask for a meeting.
Make sure everyone who is attending the meeting is informed on your objectives, talking points, and arguments that the decision maker(s) may make against your case. Show up to their offices in professional / coordinated outfits if possible. If the first meeting goes well, be sure to schedule a second one soon. If they ask for more information or some additional details, be sure to follow through. If you are not sure of a question they ask you, make sure to not lie or make something up - just tell them that you are not sure but will look it up and send the information in the next few days. Stick to whatever timeline you give them to send this information over.
Ideally, unless the administration is being truly uncooperative, you should be constantly seeking opportunities to meet with decision makers on your issue until they agree to your policy change. If they stop responding to your e-mails, try calling their office. If they stop returning your calls, go to their office in person. If they refuse to let you into their office, camp outside and wait for them to come out. Never forget that you have a right as a student to talk with the people responsible for your safety and well-being.
Whether it’s newspaper, radio, television, or online, campus media can be a great way to bring your ideas to the rest of the student body. If your school newspaper has an editorial section, see if any of your chapter members are interested in writing an editorial outlining your proposed policy change. Some college radio stations will also allow student groups to record PSAs and other announcements to put on air. Any opportunity you can grab to spread your message through campus media can help you bring more awareness to your cause as well as more potential allies.
If your chapter doesn’t already have an active Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram page now is a great opportunity to get it started. Please ask your SSDP team member to make these pages for you. Post some stories or facts related to your campaign in an effort to create some unity and awareness over what you are doing. Never underestimate the power of creating Facebook events as well; they can be a great reminder for folks on your campus if you plan any events related to your campaign. You could also develop your own custom hashtag for your campaign.
Writing a petition that clearly states the changes you are hoping to make to campus drug policy is a great tool for demonstrating student support to the administration. Your chapter could print out several sheets of the petition and carry it with you to lunch, class, and other student meetings to gather signatures. Or, you could set up a table in a public place on campus and solicit signatures there.
SSDP has a good relationship with Change.Org, and your outreach coordinator can help you set up an online petition using that platform if you are interested. This way, you can also solicit signatures from alumni of your school.
Flyering & Chalking
If any of your chapter members are artistic, ask them to design a cool looking flyer for your campaign that is attention-grabbing and clearly states the change you are trying to make and why. Spend an afternoon with your chapter members posting them up in public campus facilities, dorm rooms, academic buildings, and anywhere else on campus you can post things. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, get a large banner or poster printed out and put it somewhere very public for people can see.
Chalking can also be a good, artistic way to get the word out about your campaign, especially if you can do it outside the administrative buildings! Try and find ways to make it interactive if you can.
Events & demonstrations
Your chapter may have previously organized events in an effort to spread awareness about the War on Drugs and prohibition. Now, it’s time to organize events with the intention of fostering action among your student body. Events can be a fun and engaging way to recruit the other members of your student body to your campaign, and also an opportunity to give some more responsibility to some of your chapter members. For policy change, try organizing events where students will be able to speak, such as a public soap box or a panel of students affected by the issue. In some cases, you may consider inviting external speakers (like other nearby SSDP chapter leaders) to your campus to discuss positive changes made on the issue on their campus.
For more more tips on organizing events, check out the Student Organizing Manual.
Depending on your school, trying to push through change via your student government might be the most effective thing you can do. Student government is body that connects the students and administration, so if you can get them on board, it’s likely you’ll be able to more effectively communicate with decision makers. Consider asking a friend in student government to sponsor a resolution adopting your policy change. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, try and get some of your chapter members to run for student government and take it over with SSDPers!