By Samantha May
The number of drug law violation referrals on Western Michigan University’s campus has increased in the last six years, but officials hope that a change of the office that oversees the sanctions as well as dorm-based policing will eliminate this disturbing trend.
According to WMU’s 2014 and 2016 annual security and fire safety report, drug law referrals increased steeply to 308 in 2015 from 110 referrals in 2011. The number of drug law arrests fluctuates depending on the year; in 2013, police conducted 78 campus arrests, while in 2014 there were 126.
The assistant director for student conduct, Jeremy Ynclan, said students are given a drug law referral when there is suspicion but no trace of a drug substance. A student can legally have a tobacco pipe, but a drug law arrest is given if the pipe contains an illegal substance.
“It’s a big difference between someone who is dealing and someone who is smoking weed in their dorm room,” Ynclan said.
Ynclan said marijuana is involved in 99 percent of the drug violations.
If there are any suspicions of marijuana use in the dormitories, hall directors and resident assistants are trained to automatically contact the police and are required to write an incident report when a student violates the drug law. Ynclan said the student then meets one on one with the hall director, who then sends a letter to a student’s parent or guardian explaining the issue.
Depending on the seriousness of the offense, the office of student conduct offers a number of sanctions, or educational programs, to a student who violates the drug law. These sanctions focus on behavioral change, and, Ynclan said, “It’s all about academics.”
“We can confront the behavior without being ‘confrontational’,” the director of residence life, Steven Palmer, said.
This fall, the department overseeing the sanctions changed, said Palmer. Previously, the sanctions took place in the behavioral health program at WMU’s east campus. Now the sanctions are held in Sindecuse Health Center because, Palmer said, “Sindecuse is more able to handle it.” Counselors at Sindecuse are trained to handle student drug abuse and addiction.
Palmer said the new sanctions include an online module on drug and alcohol abuse and a one-on-one therapy session with a counselor from Sindecuse.
“It makes it very real. Talking about their own life and their own scenarios,” Palmer said.
Scott Merlo, the director of public safety and chief of police, said another way to patrol drug use on campus is community policing, which started in fall 2015. Community policing started mainly because of individuals selling drugs in the dormitories. A police officer is assigned to a dormitory, where he or she stays visible to the students and patrols the hallways.
Merlo said it’s all about forming relationships with the students. The officers should be approachable to the students, available to answer any questions and assist students in being successful, he said.
“We try to educate and engage our students, rather than enforce,” Merlo said.
Merlo said although the amount of drug arrests seem to vary, they tend to be consistent from year to year. He said, “I wish we can see a decrease, but we are not.”
An assistant professor in WMU’s program in alcohol and drug abuse, Tiffany Lee-Parker, said her concern is that there are now other methods, such as “wax” or edibles, that contain high concentrations of THC that are not like smoking marijuana. These methods are highly addictive and can cause negative experiences to the user, such as extremely high anxiety, paranoia, and passing out from the high concentration of the drug.
“We can help to decrease the number of people getting arrested, losing their jobs, hurting family and friends, causing harm to their bodies, developing a disorder, and drinking and driving, and ultimately, we can save lives,” Lee-Parker said.