Students opened a chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy in March to help reduce drug-related harm and foster sensible conversations about healthy and unhealthy drug use. In addition to educating the Oberlin community, the organization supplies free and anonymous drug testing.
College junior Rachel Clark, who founded Oberlin’s chapter of SSDP, described how the group serves multiple purposes on this campus.
“[We] offer unbiased, nonjudgmental peer-to-peer education about drugs, free and anonymous drug checking services, workshops on drug safety, and … a variety of outreach tactics designed to integrate Oberlin’s drug education with the surrounding community.”
Clark emphasized that many people are often unaware of the actual contents of a substance before they take it.
“People think they know what they have, which has historically absolutely not been the case,” Clark said. “What often ends up happening is [someone will bring in a substance and] say ‘I already know it’s this and I’m only doing this to be safe,’ and then it pops up as something different, which is actually what happened before Drag Ball. We had a test come in that ended up popping [up] as amphetamine, when they were certain it was cocaine.”
Levi Dayan, a College first-year enrolled in DrugsCo, an ExCo Clark teaches that focuses on drug education, also expressed concern that people may not be aware of the contents of a drug and potential effects before they choose to use it.
“Coke is rarely pure and often mixed with other elements to make it cheaper, so when people do coke on campus, they really need to go in with a special sense of awareness of what they’re using,” wrote Dayan in an email to the Review.
Cocaine is one of many drugs on campus that has been tested and shown to contain other substances.
“On this campus, we’ve tested cocaine that has popped up for alpha-PVP, which is a synthetic cathinone known as flakka. … [It] is very unpredictable and can cause serious physiological side-effects, as well as addiction,” Clark said. “We’ve tested for supposed ketamine that had no results on our chart; we don’t know what it actually was. We tested supposed DMT that also had no results on our chart.”
When deciding what to do about the laced drugs proliferating at Oberlin, the College administration finds itself in a difficult position.
“We have a Department of Education mandate to essentially implement programming that supports the Drug Free Campuses and Communities Act,” said Director of Health Promotion for Students Eddie Gisemba. “If we don’t [implement that programming], then we can’t receive federal funds. If we don’t receive federal funds, we can no longer exist as an institution, because a lot of the students rely on that support to attend college here. … [In addition,] we are liable to fines if we do not abide by federal policy. … As it goes for SSDP, I think we’ve [engaged in] the conversation that can be facilitated between what are the policies that we can re-engage and consider modifying versus what can’t we do. We can’t allow unlawful use.”
For Gisemba, the scope of lawful use extends to the testing done on the purity of substance Clark described above.
“As a public health professional, I’m kind of in an odd position in that regard,” Gisemba said. “It’s kind of hard to say ‘Don’t do drugs’ and then ‘Here are some testing strips to test your drugs.’ … It seems like enabling.”
Some students feel that the administration should not interfere with drug culture on campus.
“When the administration gets involved with drug stuff, they just f**k it up,” said College senior Jackson Zinn-Rowthorn. “One of the reasons that drug culture is so well-managed at Oberlin is because the administration has taken a step back. I don’t know exactly the reasons, but that level of trust makes it healthier.”
However, Clark expressed concerns about the lack of clarity around administrative action once they do become involved.
“There aren’t many clearly written stipulations that are easily accessible by students that tell them exactly what to expect if they have a substance-related discussion with someone in a position of authority in this school,” Clark said. “People don’t know what will happen to them after they get brought into Mercy [Allen Hospital] for substance use, they don’t understand that. I don’t even understand that. I’ve heard mixed things from everyone that I’ve talked to.”
Gisemba explained the College’s current role surrounding drug use.
“If we find out that a student is using alcohol under the age of 21 or any other recreational drug, we generally send them through a sanctioned process where they have to take an online alcohol and marijuana course. … There’s a $60 fine attached to that.” Gisemba said. “We handle the sanction and disciplinary process internally. And it’s to the point that if ResEd or Campus Safety finds a student in violation of a policy, [even] if Oberlin [Police Department] finds out this has taken place and they catch a student, they will send them to us. They won’t send them to the courts.”
Gisemba also recognizes that one of his greatest problems is a general distrust between the students and the College. To address this, Gisemba is pushing to create peer-to-peer substance safety workshops for all first-years starting next year. No other college is doing this, according to Gisemba.
The SSDP is trying to provide resources and peer support that cannot be provided by the College.
“Even though this is a fresh chapter, the people in SSDP are willing to help,” Clark said. “It is obviously incredibly important to keep in mind that we aren’t mental health practitioners or physicians or anything within a fully professional context, but just when it comes to spring-boarding a conversation and being there to help find resources and move people in directions that help them make different choices and live healthier lifestyles that they want, then SSDP is there for that.”
Gisemba recommends that students use the Counseling Center to help them find the appropriate resources, but that students should contact Campus Safety immediately in the case of an emergency.
SSDP will have a table set up at Solarity tonight from 10:30– 11:30 p.m.