On April 26, the student organization 4th Dimension hosted a panel discussion with the Dean of Student Life Subir Sahu, Assistant Dean of Student Conduct and Community Standards Stephen Rupprecht and Associate Dean of Counseling and Health Annette Molyneux to discuss the university’s current drug policy, with a special focus on the Responsible Dragon Protocol. The focus of the discussion is to clarify what drug policy means for students. 4th Dimension is a student organization whose role is to spread information on substance abuse and the stigma surrounding addiction.
“Currently, our main focus is pushing for drug policy reform on campus,” Elizabeth Ferris, senior anthropology major and president of 4th Dimension said in an e-mail interview.
“There is a lot of confusion on what the Drug Policy is as well as the Responsible Dragon Protocol (RDP). Students are afraid to call for help if a friend [is] in trouble because they might get penalized. We want a clear RDP that supports the safety of our students. This is an issue that goes beyond students with substance abuse and touches all students on campus,” Ferris continued.
The panel began with breaking the myth that Drexel is a zero-tolerance school on drugs, and clarified that Drexel is a drug-free school. Four years ago, the university told students that there was a zero-tolerance policy in place with a penalty of suspension on first strike. Now, the policy is immensely different. According to Rupprecht, the response to a violation is now subjective to each case. One of his concerns was the increase in the number of cases that involved students dependent on prescription drugs that aren’t prescribed to them.
The discussion soon shifted to 4th Dimension’s primary focus: The Responsible Dragon Protocol, is a university initiative that has created provisions to consider alternative consequences for students who, while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, report medical emergencies that happen as a consequence of alcohol or drug abuse.
“The University will consider the positive impact of reporting an incident when determining the appropriate sanctions for policy violations. In such cases, any possible negative consequences for the reporter of the situation will be evaluated against the possible negative consequences for the student who needed assistance,” Drexel University states on their website.
This policy can be compared to the Medical Amnesty Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. Their website states, “No student seeking medical treatment for an alcohol or other drug-related overdose will be subject to University discipline for the sole violation of using or possessing alcohol or drugs.” This policy extends to students who report these incidents as well.
Many students expressed concern with the wording of this language. They insisted that it might discourage students in dangerous situations to contact emergency services in fear of possibly facing some form of punishment.
Rupprecht explained that it was very unlikely that a student would face punishment for reporting medical emergencies related to drugs and alcohol. “What the policy allows us to do is to say, ‘Thank you, you made a great decision,’ ” Rupprecht said.
“There will be no conduct record for the person that gets the help. Meaning, you called 911; you got an RA involved; you identified yourself as the person helping. Now– were you drinking that night? Sure. Is there a good opportunity for education, maybe? Yeah, but we don’t need a file to achieve that outcome. So, we’re not going to issue a fine. We’re not going to involve your parents. You’re probably not even going to be put on probation,” he continued.
“I think where there might be need for discussion is with the person that needed the help. Because our policy right now does not provide amnesty for that help,” Rupprecht said. However, Rupprecht clarified, adding that it would be very unlikely that the student needing help would be suspended. In other words, if someone ended up in the hospital for a drug overdose, that person would not face suspension.
“100 percent the policy should be that you have 100 percent amnesty because 99 percent means nothing. 99 percent could mean 0 percent. From first-hand knowledge, I know that 90 percent of the student population believes that they’re actually protected [or unsure],”one student in the audience said.
Sahu said that his concerns not only lie with the language of the policy, but also with the student culture that may discourage some from reaching out to emergency services. “There’s a little part of me that’s like, ‘Is it the protocol? … Or would that continue to happen even if we updated the policy until it’s crystal clear? I argue that there’s a cultural piece of Drexel students to that [point],” he said.
In comparing policies between the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, Sahu clarified that in order to change the policy into an amnesty program it must go through an approval process by all the necessary leadership including the board of trustees.
A student followed up by asking what kind of benefit a full amnesty policy such as Penn’s would provide the school.
“It protects the university,” Sahu said, explaining that the more caveats in the language, the more protected the university is. However, Rupprecht admitted that the language on the website has not changed since it was originally written and that it is due for a review. He also stated that suggestions made at the panel will be taken into account during the review process.
One participating student expressed concern that students will be hesitant to come forward about addiction issues in fear of being penalized. Molyneux responded, “Anyone who comes to counseling for whatever – whatever happens in a counseling session – will stay in that session.”
Nothing that a student reports in the counseling office will leave the office.
One student explained that she came to the counseling center for help when struggling with addiction, and is now in recovery. She made a point that the counseling website needs to be more clear in informing students looking for help with a substance problem that they will not be penalized for seeking help.
Rupprecht responded, “Please take a look at what the policy looks like right now, and then take a look at it again in the fall. We can make that change very easily. Great suggestion.”
The same student also noted how many resources there are in Philadelphia that she had not known about until after she was sober. She expressed that she thinks the recovery community at Drexel should become more involved in providing help at the university.
The discussion also provided a common interest in requesting that the staff at Drexel such as Public Safety officials and Residential Assistants be better informed about the policy.
This event was in conjunction with a series of events hosted by the organization which serve to raise awareness about alcohol and substance abuse during Alcohol Awareness Month, panning from April 24 to 29. The other events include a yoga event on Race Lawn that occurred on April 24, the discussion panel and lastly a Blackout Day on April 29 during which students will wear black clothing and take a vow of silence in order to push for changes in the drug policy at Drexel. The Blackout Day will end with a Break the Silence event that will occur in the Van R Ballroom from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
“The silent protest shows what it would be like if these students were no longer here because of this strict policy,” Ferris explained.
Sahu and Rupprecht will also be participating in this event to show their solidarity with the students.