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Rice community rallies around "culture of care" after administration warns of drug distribution plan

By Yasna Haghdoost     8/19/16 2:42am

As Rice University welcomes the Class of 2020 during Orientation Week, the administration has received information that some students may be planning to distribute illicit drugs on campus with the intent of targeting new students, according to Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson.

The administration characterized the information they received as a "specific, credible threat" that includes prescription narcotics, hallucinogens, and other controlled substances, Hutchinson said, though the scale of the alleged plans for distribution remains unclear. The university administration informed O-Week and residential college leaders of these developments so as to involve more students in preventing any potentially dangerous situations. 

“We have a very specific concern that in fact there may be members of our community who are intending to bring dangerous substances to campus this week, and we will intervene to prevent that from happening,” Hutchinson said.

According to Will Rice College Master Bridget Gorman, the timing and nature of the information received by the administration has led to increased awareness within the Rice community and leadership.

“Because we had credible information that people were going to be receiving and using some dangerous drugs right as the school year is beginning, and the fact that some of that information referenced freshmen, there was even more heightened concern,” Gorman said.

During O-Week advisor training, the week before new students arrived on campus, Hutchinson addressed these concerns with advisors and coordinators. Hutchinson said he discussed the issue with O-Week leaders in order to ensure that more members of the Rice community were aware of potential dangers and ready to intervene.

“I don't want a student to say, ‘Well, that's happening but that's not my business’ or ‘If I say something about it someone might get in trouble and so I'll keep quiet,’” Hutchinson said. “It's actually a responsibility all of us have: to keep our eyes and ears open to situations that might endanger another member of our community and to act when we see that happening. The reason for raising this particular concern was to empower students to become agents in keeping the campus safe.”

Gorman emphasized the importance of improving drug education, particularly for new students, in addition to working with O-Week advisors and coordinators to help prevent potentially dangerous situations. Gorman alluded to heightened sensitivity surrounding “Dis-Orientation,” the campus-wide celebration occurring on the Saturday before classes when upperclassmen begin moving in and when alcohol is allowed again on campus after being banned during O-Week.  

“We've been thinking about how can we promote a safe and healthy environment for freshmen and all students during all the kickoff parties and celebrations that happen everywhere once everyone returns to campus,” Gorman said. “Moving beyond that, how can we reexamine and reevaluate the ways in which we have discussed the use of illicit drugs on campus beyond just saying, ‘Drugs are illegal, drugs are bad, don't do them’?”

Justin Bernard, an advisor at Jones College, said he and his fellow Jones advisors received a text from their college president about this issue after Hutchinson spoke during advisor training. Bernard, a Jones junior, expressed concern over the possibility of individuals distributing drugs on campus.

“It’s shocking to me that someone within the culture of Rice really feels like [distributing drugs] is OK,” Bernard said. “It’s nothing against the person, but the fact that they have disregard for the health of all the other people around them just kind of disturbs me.”

According to Bernard, the Jones coordinators encouraged advisors to be more alert and help create a safe environment.

“Our coordinators have told us essentially to spread the word around and make sure that everybody knows that this is not OK, and to keep eyes and ears out for anything that they can find,” Bernard said.

An advisor who wished to remain anonymous felt this incident did not reflect the general culture at Rice, and that the number of students who consume hard drugs is “very small.”

“With that being said, there is a network of people who do partake in drugs,” the advisor said. “But I feel like they usually keep it to themselves; they aren’t dealing. From the people I know, they actually are very hesitant to deal it to people or provide information about who their drug dealers are.”

According to this advisor, they and other advisors were “pretty astonished” upon hearing about the possibility of drugs being distributed within the next few days.

“I think [the advisors] are all shocked,” the advisor said. “I felt like it was a good response in that they were really worried about the new students’ safety and well-being.”

With respect to hard drug use on campus, Gorman said she does not believe it comprises a significant aspect of Rice culture, and she stressed the importance of taking precautions even if this more recent threat doesn’t materialize. According to the 2015 Annual Security Report published by Rice, there were 11 referrals and four arrests for on-campus drug law violations in 2012; nine referrals and six arrests in 2013; and one referral and no arrests in 2014. In April 2015, a senior was expelled two weeks before graduation over allegations that he had provided the painkiller fentanyl to a student who nearly died from overdose.

“I don't think this is the normal or typical experience at all for our students,” Gorman said. “I think that this is somewhat more exceptional. Maybe it'll turn out to be nothing. Maybe it'll turn out to be something. You take precautions when you have a warning that you might have a problem.”

Hanszen College President Kenny Groszman said he believes hard drugs should be treated as a pressing issue, and that more open dialogue is crucial in preventing the abuse of dangerous substances on campus.

“The only comments I’ve heard about hard drugs from student leadership and administration have been, ‘Hard drugs are completely unacceptable in our community,’” Groszman, a Hanszen senior, said. “This kind of statement oversimplifies the nature of drug use and in doing so ostracizes drug users from the community that proudly boasts its commitment to help.”

Groszman said having more thorough conversations about hard drug use, both campus-wide and within residential colleges, is crucial in clarifying Rice’s policies and reinforcing the "culture of care."

“We need to more explicitly include hard drugs in Rice’s culture of care and we should accept our obligation to intervene when anyone puts themselves or others in dangerous situations,” Groszman said. “Even in our recent history, Rice has lost classmates and friends at the hands of hard drugs, and it would be disrespectful to ignore the existence of drug abuse in our community.”

Hutchinson emphasized Rice’s policy of medical amnesty for students who may have consumed drugs, which states that under most circumstances both impaired students and those assisting impaired students will not face disciplinary action as explained in the Rice Code of Student Conduct. He also warned students who may intend to distribute illegal substances of the severe sanctions imposed by the university.

“We will help anyone who is an abuser of these substances to get medical care, to get psychological support and counseling and to make sure that they are healthy and safe,” Hutchinson said. “If there are people who are thinking they would like to engage in selling narcotics or selling hallucinogens or even providing them for free, they should anticipate that they will be dealt with very severely because our highest priority is the health and safety of our students.”

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