Students demand changes to substance abuse policy

Photo courtesy of Ramapo College, Flickr

In comparison to other New Jersey state schools, Ramapo’s repercussions for possession or use of alcohol and drugs on campus are harsh. Students charged with violations of alcohol or drug policies on campus face high fines, and senior Matt Reber is fighting for change.

Reber began working with the Student Government Association's former president, Stephan Lally, last year to create change in regards to alcohol and drug policies on campus. He believes Ramapo’s fines are too high and create an unfair disadvantage for less wealthy students.

“I thought we were going to go in there, and they were going to be like ‘Oh, definitely,’” Reber said about his first meeting with the Office of Student Conduct. “It really wasn’t like that at all.”

Reber began The Alcohol and Drug Policy Task Force after realizing that the school was not going to be as receptive to changes as he had initially hoped. His proposal for change included lowered fines and an increased focus on community service and education in order to make the policies more helpful than harmful.

“Overall, our philosophy on it was that we don’t want to harm students,” Reber said. “We want to show them a better way.”

The task force’s focus on community service seeks not only to address the issues of alcohol and drug use with education, but also to create a system that is more fair to students who cannot afford high fines. 

“Of course we can’t just let people get away with things and do whatever they want, of course not,” Reber said. “Kids that are wealthier at school though, this kind of punishment could be nothing to them, with higher fines. For students with lower income… it’ll be a lot harder for them to make up that money. This community service puts everyone on an even playing field.” 

Reber’s task force quickly filled up with SGA members, including the current SGA president, Anjali Patel, and they worked to draft new policies and petitions. In order to gain student attention, Reber began a petition on to show the Office of Student Conduct the support behind their proposed changes.

The propositions, outlined in a letter the task force sent on June 11, include first-time violations being met with online education programs for alcohol and marijuana. For further offenses, the task force proposed cutting fines almost in half and adding community restitution hours.

In these proposed changes, the task force singled out marijuana possession and usage, hoping to create policies which steer these offenses away from those of other drugs.

“We wanted to separate marijuana,” Reber said. “We made it more similar to the alcohol fines, and we believe that marijuana is not on the similar level to these harsher drugs that deserve these serious fines and penalties.”

Given that New Jersey has voted to legalize marijuana, Reber especially wanted to highlight this change. Though Ramapo must follow the federal law of marijuana’s illegality, he believes they must also adjust to state changes in order to create more fair policies.

Thus far, the Office of Student Conduct has not been open to accepting the proposed changes, despite the show of student support within the SGA. Reber hopes his petition will garner the numbers that he needs to create change.

In their letter to the office, written by HGS school senator Nazli Tiyaloglu, The Alcohol and Drug Policy Task Force states: 

“The goal of our efforts to generate policy change is to assure that the careers of students as well as their valuable education are not hindered. Inflicting harmful penalties only discourages students. Instead of enforcing such ramifications, Ramapo College must make an initiative to promote a supportive learning environment in which students can flourish both academically and socially.”