Rehabbing Yale’s drug policy

Graphic by Joseph Valdez

We sat around two half-eaten Ashley’s ice cream frisbees in Branford courtyard and watched someone attempt to pour a shot (of water) into a red solo cup. This was one of the many alcohol workshops my FroCo group did during Camp Yale. Strangely, however, despite discussing alcohol at length, no workshop mentioned what to do when students overdose on drugs other than alcohol, never mind what Yale’s disciplinary policy was on the matter. So I asked. “Don’t talk to me about drugs,” my FroCo told me. I was stunned, so I questioned some of my friends to see if they had experienced similar exchanges. They had. One even reported a FroCo saying, “We aren’t supposed to talk about drugs here.” But we should. Not only is it misguided to act as though drug use isn’t a fact of campus life, it is extremely dangerous. Awareness concerning drugs other than alcohol should not just be a component of the first few days of freshman year, but rather an element of campus programming throughout our time at Yale.

Dispelling the first fallacy of Yale’s position on drugs other than alcohol—that they aren’t a prevalent component of campus social life—is easy: they are. I’ve whiffed entryways that, if I didn’t know better, I would have mistaken for dispensaries. Indeed, some folks on our campus hold the housing form’s description of a suite being “a vibrant social hub” to higher standards. Joking aside, cannabis use, though the most obvious, is obviously not the only drug besides alcohol used on campus. According to a 2014 Yale Daily News survey, of drug use at Yale, 42% of the 832 respondents reported having used cannabis; 7% stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin without a prescription; 6.2% MDMA; and another 5.7% reported having used cocaine. The notion that Yale students don’t use drugs other than alcohol is as self-evidently flawed as the contention that Yale students get enough sleep.

And so most of us are all too familiar with the typical Saturday night at Yale: you’ve had a little to drink and are stumbling into the yard of a frat. You’re in that state of blissful carelessness that makes your surroundings feel circumstantial. But your friend is past that point. Even though you know she hasn’t been drinking, she looks ill. You wonder if she might have taken something. Could she just be sick? The problem is that you don’t know because you were never taught. No form of education for drugs other than alcohol was included as part of your mandatory orientation. Moreover, even when you asked your FroCo about these situations, they refused to supply you with answers. And so you cannot tell if your friend is going into overdose or just needs to lie down.

Now let’s consider a situation in which Yale has taught you how to identify non-alcohol-related intoxication. Even if you knew that your friend was in such a state, you wouldn’t know Yale’s policy regarding drugs other than alcohol. Why? FroCos are still not permitted to have these kinds of discussions with freshmen. Even if they could, Yale’s official position is murky at best. At worst, Yale’s policies are actively putting students’ lives at risk. Indeed, the answer for this lack of information is as frustrating and counterintuitive as the problem itself. Under the current policy, you can face disciplinary charges even if you’re not the one overdosing. Neither the victim nor a bystander of an overdose on drugs other than alcohol is explicitly protected from Yale sanctions.

Of course, this leaves students who find themselves in these tough situations with a catch-22: decide whether to risk their own standing and call for help or play the odds with their friends’ safety. The thing is, this shouldn’t be a catch-22. The fact that one could face such a choice is reckless and dumbfounding. Clearly one should call for help. No fear of disciplinary consequences should take priority over someone’s life. But Yale’s policy naively assumes that students will always make the right decision in the heat of the moment. Why doesn’t Yale make it easier for students to do the right thing by educating them and eliminating their fear of punishment altogether? All I can think of is that they’re concerned that identifying the obvious issues of drug use on campus may force them to acknowledge a reality they deem as unseemly. Students have a responsibility to call for help in emergency situations. Shouldn’t Yale have a responsibility to make it easier for them to do so?

Having nearly finished my first year here, I’ve spent enough time at Yale to start to see through some of its ancient mystique. Though I love this university, the administration’s negligent treatment of issues related to students who use drugs has motivated me to add my voice to the fray: to publicly condemn a policy that is not only based on unfounded assumptions, but also unnecessarily jeopardizes students’ safety. Yale students do, in fact, use substances other than alcohol. Thus, there is no good reason that they should be put in harm’s way by an ineffective policy that would just as easily see a student disciplined as it would see them helped.

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