Pass the bottle, bypass the bowl?

Maura Fennelly

Some freshmen begin their time at American University
without having sipped a drop of alcohol or smoked a puff of weed. For the
purposes of this article, “Sarah” is the name used to represent a
completely made-up freshman who hasn’t encountered any drug. Sarah wonders what
will happen to her classmates if they get caught drinking or smoking. She
wonders what happens when people are found breaking the rules. She wonders what
the rules even are. She wonders if booze or bud is worse at AU.

The Student Advocacy Center (SAC), a department within AU
Student Government, informs and provides guidance to students who run into
problems with the code of conduct. Adam Garrett, the director of SAC, explains
how the organization guides students who have violated the Student Conduct Code
(SCC) in academic or disciplinary issues. Garrett says the SAC sees an average
of 40 people per semester.

Of these interactions, there are more alcohol violations than
any other drug violations. AU’s marijuana policy is “a reflection of federal
law,” Garrett explains. Marijuana use and possession is against federal law;
that’s one of the reasons why, even though marijuana has been decriminalized in
the District, it is still against university policy to possess any amount of
marijuana on campus. Even those over 21 are not allowed to drink alcohol in the
residence halls on campus.

Say Sarah becomes interested in exploring the different
aspects of college – community service, club sports, volunteer organizations,
social scenes, etc. She may even be curious about the neurological effects of
marijuana and alcohol. But she is responsible and values her education, so she
reads up on AU’s SCC, which is available on the school website. After finding a
handy guide from SAC and having conversations with some approachable resident
assistants (RA), Sarah decides that between marijuana and alcohol, the latter
is given a lot more leeway.

Alcohol Violations:

Students found in possession of alcohol on campus for the
first time will most likely have to, first, write an essay on the choices they
made and why underage drinking is bad, 
second,  attend a class on alcohol
education and third, have a censure added to their disciplinary file. There is
no parent notification or disciplinary probation. For second-time offenders,
parents will be notified, and the student will be placed on disciplinary

Probation means the student must not get in trouble for
violating any policies, even a noise complaint. It lasts for a semester and, if
broken, the student will be removed from campus and potentially suspended.

Students at AU are given a free pass in terms of
alcohol-related transports. One story of a freshman who was transported for alcohol
poisoning exemplifies AU’s policy on allowing students to be transported
without any punishment or reprimand.

“After I got transported I got an email about four or five
days later,” the student said. “I met with this woman in the Wellness Center. She
made sure that I knew what was wrong about alcohol and how I used it. She gave
me a little chat that said how many drinks I can have and what my BAC should
be. I also had to pay $1,200. Two weeks later I had to follow up with the
woman. Nothing else happened after that.”

If Sarah happened to drink a little too much of the jungle
juice at the frat on Friday night, started vomiting and ended up getting
transported, she would get a parent notification and quite a large hospital
bill. Sure, she would have to meet with some staff members to talk about what
happened, but she wouldn’t have to worry about probation. This occurs because
AU wants to make sure students are reporting situations when someone is in
medical danger, and students are more willing to do that if there aren’t as
many consequences.

Not too bad, right? Now let’s talk marijuana.

Marijuana Violations:

In most situations, individual are dealt with on a
case-by-case basis. The university sets a clear distinction between the
“presence” and “possession” of marijuana.

“Presence” means an individual is simply in the room or
area where marijuana is located; nothing handled or inhaled. “Possession” means
the marijuana was ingested, in contact with, or purchased.

The punishment for students found in the presence of
marijuana or any paraphernalia for the first time is, first, a required paper
on the effect of the drug and, second, a censure added to the person’s
disciplinary record. For first-time offenders of marijuana possession, the
penalties include an entire semester of disciplinary probation, a marijuana
education class, parental notification, a paper and a meeting with a health
educator. If the student is caught in possession of marijuana a second time,
they will be removed from campus. The only way parents are not notified in
marijuana-related incidents is if the individual at fault is over the age of

Let’s say Sarah was interested to see what marijuana was
like, and she goes to hang out with some people that use the drug. Pretend
Sarah is in her new friend’s room and marijuana is out on the table. The RA
comes in after smelling the drug.

Marijuana violations are much more severe than alcohol
ones. Another AU student was smoking in his dorm room and was then caught by an

“The RA smelled weed in the hallway and knocked on the
door,” he said. “After my student conduct meeting I found out I have to attend
a Marijuana 101 class and a decision-making class. My parents are going to be
notified. The worst part is that I’m on disciplinary probation for about a

But even if Sarah didn’t put a finger on a trace of
marijuana, she would be found guilty of being in the presence of marijuana. If
Sarah found herself in the same position again, she could be placed on
probation and her parents would be notified.

Sarah has a strong feeling that she’s going to stick to vodka and beer.
Much less risky.