Blazed and Confused : Campus officials concerned that students are unaware of drug policies
January 26, 2016
College students smoke pot. No surprise there. Marijuana has become as associated with the college experience as beer pong or Greek life. But officials at UTEP are concerned that many students may not know or understand the consequences of being found in possession while enrolled in school.
Aside from the charge showing up in a background check—which can make it harder to find employment or lease an apartment—a student who has been caught with marijuana on or off campus may have the federal government and the UT System to deal with.
A possession charge can disqualify a student from federal financial aid and the student can lose rights or privileges from the university. Some students may get suspended from the university or campus housing. Some may also be required to complete a program at the UTEP Police Department.
“The drug policy that we have in the handbook of operating procedures—those recommendations are specific from the UT System,” said Jovita Simón, director of the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution. “We cannot ignore those obviously. We have to abide by those.”
So even though 23 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized pot use in some form, UTEP officials must abide by UT System policy, which states that all illegal drugs are prohibited on campus.
Charlie Gibbens, director of Residence Life, oversees students who are living on campus and has seen an uptick in the number of students caught in possession of pot. He said he is concerned that not enough students are reading the campus drug
“When students move in, we strongly encourage them to make sure they know what the policies are,” Gibbens said. “But I think a lot of the times, unless it directly effects you, then you don’t think about it.”
Gibbens shared an anecdote about international students who were found in possession at their dorm. The students were removed from campus housing, and because these particular students were in a program that required them to live on campus, they ended up having to leave the university and return to their home countries.
There has been an increase in how many students have been found in possession on campus. According to the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution, 13 drug-related incidents were reported in fall 2015. That is up from seven in spring 2015 and two in fall 2014.
Simón said the growing number is a concern, but the numbers do correlate with the growing student population and the number of students living on campus, which has increased to almost 1,000.
Simón sees all of the students who have been charged with a drug-related offense. She said her office tries to take more of an educational approach, where they require students to think through their actions.
She said that usually, students will be put on a probationary period that can last anywhere from four months to their graduation day, depending on the severity of the offense.
Many students will also have to go through the Individual Reflective Experience program at the UTEP Police Department, which requires students to sit one-on-one with UTEP Assistant Chief of Police Raymundo Rodriguez, write a reflective essay and attend presentations by lawyers and speakers.
“If your employer calls the university to get a background check, they don’t care what’s in that file, all they care about is that you have a file,” Gibbens said. “It scares me that students may not know the negative repercussions of someone lighting up a joint.”
Jasmine Aguilera may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.