Zero tolerance: Residential assistants propose policy enforcement

By Katelyn Canon

December 5, 2012

Amanda Estep just wants to be able to breathe. Estep, a resident of Vaselakos Hall, has cystic fibrosis, a lung and digestive disorder; when she’s exposed to smoke, it can be difficult for her to breathe. While Missouri Western has recently passed a policy to become a tobacco-free campus, Estep, like other residents and residential assistants, are finding that tobacco smoke is not the only smoke in the residence halls. "There was an overwhelming smell of weed in our hallway and I couldn’t breathe. It was so hazy. It was awful and me along with two other residents got sick from it,” Estep said. At the final Student Government Association meeting on Dec. 3, five residential assistants, Tom Parker, Jacob Mills, Katy Sisco, Abby Svendsen, and Javier Paz Blanco, were in attendance to express their concerns of the increased drug problems in the residence halls. “This year I think there has been an increase in behavior interventions,” Parker said. “I think what we see is a corrosion of one learning environment to protect another. What I mean is we have students who are uncomfortable in their living conditions. What we are protecting is the people who are experimenting with drugs.” Senators Travis Hart and Brandon Grieshaber are leading an effort either create a zero tolerance policy in the residence halls or revise and enforce the current policy. The current policy for a first-time procession and uses offenders is one year of disciplinary probation, a $50 fine, educational programming, initial substance screening, possible removal from housing, and if the offender is a minor contacting parents. If a zero tolerance policy were to be proposed, first-time offenders would be removed from the residence halls. “The reasons we are talking about the zero tolerance policy was a number of students have come up with a concerns of the problem of an excess of marijuana smoking,” Grieshaber said. While it is still unclear if Hart and Grieshaber will create a revised policy or zero tolerance policy, the RAs present in at the meeting agreed that something needs to be done about the reoccurring offenders. “I think that cost of not fully enforcing our drug policies or even adopting a zero tolerance of drugs policy is greater than the benefit of retaining individuals that tarnish our university’s reputation and overall lower the education values of everyone around them,” Parker. Director of Residence Life and Housing Mark Steir was also in attendance and gave a report on the statistics and disciplinary procedure concerning drug and alcohol violations in the residence halls. “I pulled the statistics before I came to the meeting and the statistics are basically the same as last year,” Steir said. “If you look at the Clery Act…we are the lowest we have been in five years. Drugs for example, last year at this time there were roughly ten incidences. This year we’ve had 20. We have doubled it, but part of that is because our professional staff and our RA’s recognize the symptoms and situations and immediately respond.” Although Stier feels that the RA staff is better informed on drug violations than in the past, Estep still sees room for improvement. "I just feel that when it’s affecting others besides just the people doing it something needs to be done. There needs to be stricter rules or something because I feel unsafe living in the dorms."