Student, Staff Task Force to Re-Evaluate and Update Substance Use Policy on Campus

By Madison Myers
Elm Staff Writer

Previous Honor Board Chair and newly elected Student Government Association President Victoria Cline, junior, is spearheading a project to create further awareness and education surrounding the alcohol and drug policies at Washington College. Through the creation of the Washington College Substance Use and Abuse Education Task Force, Cline and others hope to evaluate the school’s policies regarding alcohol and substance use.

“The purpose of the task force is to re-evaluate the college’s policies in relation to alcohol use and misuse, and to try to recalibrate the policies, both in relationship to their enforcement and also to better serve the needs of our students. We know that students on campus drink, and we want to make sure that our policies reflect our desire to have a safe environment for everyone,” said Dr. Elizabeth O’Connor, assistant professor of English and faculty vice chair of the Honor Board.

As the faculty vice chair, she is a part of the new group tasked with the evaluation of these policies.

Rachel Boyle, director of the Prevention Education Advocacy Center, is also a part of the task force.

“The alcohol task force is going to combine three different areas: educational, assessment, and policy. The purpose is to be able to review some of the policies that exist around alcohol use. We’ve also explored becoming not solely about alcohol but substance misuse,” she said.

These three approaches will allow the committee to evaluate the issue on a quantitative level, and use that information to create educational initiatives as well as re-evaluate existing policy. The inclusion of various offices such as the Department of Public Safety, PEAC, Student Affairs, Athletics, Institutional Research and Assessment, and student and faculty panelists allow a diverse group of representatives to share ideas and feedback about issues.

“We’ve been seeing quite a few drug and alcohol violations this year…it’s something that the College is very aware of. And this task force existed several years ago, and the policies, the problems and the student body were very different back then. So we wanted to bring it back and give it a new structure and name and make it focused on education,” Cline said.

With the drinking age increasing to 21 in the 80s and the more recent implementation of the Medical Amnesty law, a lot has changed in the relationship between legality and alcohol in the past 30 years. The nation-wide rise of a largely binge-drinking focused party culture means that a re-evaluation of the implementation and execution of these laws is in order.

“You always want to be checking to see what you’re doing, being more preventative versus reactionary, and obviously when you’re in an Honor Board situation, it’s much more reactionary and after the fact. What can we be doing proactively and preventatively while intervening appropriately?” Boyle said.

Her focus on education through the PEAC will carry through to her efforts within the task force, she said. A large issue that the task force seeks to address is the lack of education about alcohol and controlled substances after a student’s first year of college.

Dr. O’Connor said, “Right now most of the alcohol education happens during orientation and then it stops. And really, the only other time someone gets alcohol education is when they’re sanctioned by the Honor Board for something…As part of the Honor Board, we get to see a lot of infractions of those policies, we can try to redraft them to better serve our students and also with a more specific eye towards education and health.”

Cline emphasizes the fact that this initiative is focused on educational prevention, not discipline. While analyzing data and evaluating policy, the other focus is on increasing education about these issues, so that a student is more equipped to make a better and safer decision.

“We wanted to not focus on a punishment aspect…we wanted to focus on an educational aspect and creating a four-year plan for first-years all the way to seniors, because it changes. So we could address both underage and legal use and abuse,” she said.

The educational aspect of this initiative would not only focus on information about drug and alcohol consumption, but also identify methods of bystander intervention and ways to identify possible addiction.

“A college is a place to prepare students for real life. These are situations that they’re gonna face outside of college, so what are we doing here and now to prepare them for that?” Cline said.

Questions or concerns about this new initiative can be directed toward Cline or the newly elected Honor Board Chair, Elizabeth Lilly, sophomore. Questions about the objectives of the committee can be directed towards Boyle.

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