Proposed Alcohol, Drug Policy Revisions Eliminate Fines

Pomona College’s Student Affairs Committee (SAC) has proposed a revision of the alcohol and drug policy that would replace fines with a point-based system. The proposal, which attempts to maintain the severity of consequences from the old policy, has been open to community feedback since its 30-day comment period began on Feb. 13. 

The proposed policy assigns a point value for on-campus offenses. The current proposal limits its scope to alcohol, marijuana, and party-related transgressions. For example, providing alcohol to someone under 21 is a two-point violation, and repeat violations are three points each. Accumulating one to five points earns a student a written warning; after six to eleven points, students’ parents or coach may be notified. Two points will be forgiven every 100 days.

In accordance with the currently implemented drug policy, offenses for possessing, using, or providing marijuana receive up to three times the penalty as alcohol-related violations. An initial offense for use, possession or provision of marijuana is six points; subsequent offenses are seven.

Many students and faculty who wrote in for the comment period felt that the discrepancy between treatment of alcohol and marijuana was unfair.

Christina Tong PO ’17, a member of the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC), said, “I think a lot of people who aren't college-aged now, they hear of weed and they think, 'oh my god, it's a drug,' but the reality on the campuses now is that both of these substances are accessible and prevalent and it's not true that marijuana has such a huge outsized detriment as compared to alcohol.”

In response to criticisms like Tong's, Kass said they are completely open to ideas and clarified that the proposal explicitly chose to postpone addressing the gap between penalties between alcohol use and marijuana use during their revision process. Instead, SAC chose to focus on the removal of fines from the punitive system as a primary goal.

Nico Kass PO ’16, president of the Associated Student of Pomona College (ASPC) and member of SAC, has worked on the proposed sanctions for over four years. He said that the proposal was intended to remedy the inequality caused by the previous system of fines, which placed a greater burdern on low-income students.

“Fines are completely unfair. Some students get a hundred, hundred-fifty dollar fine and they just put it in their student account, their parents pay for it and that's the end of it," Kass said. "But some students have to work for a month, two months to pay for that fine, so obviously that's incredibly unfair to be having a burden that is basically targeting low-income students."

Kass noted that SAC ruled out community service as a potential punishment for policy violations because it would force students to use time that they might otherwise spend working, making the punishment effectively equivalent to an economic sanction.

Regarding the higher penalty for marijuana-related offenses, Kass agreed that the proposed system is unfair.

“To reflect [the old policy] in the new system, the higher number of points was necessary,” he said. “So it's not that we changed something to make it worse, it's just that we're translating it. However, the committee is generally interested in examining or reexamining the weight of marijuana policy violations, because it's a little absurd to have it be so harsh.”

One apparent inconsistency between the current and proposed policies is the threshold for contacting a student’s parents. Under the current policy, parents will be contacted if a student is one offense away from being kicked out of on-campus housing. Under the proposed system, the college can contact parents as early as the second offense.

“I don't think that contacting parents is necessarily appropriate in all situations because you really have no idea how people's relationships with their parents is,” said Tong, who is a member of ASPC. Peter Hao Chen PO ’16, a member of SAC, noted that SAC had received significant feedback about parental contact and that the policy will likely be removed in later drafts.

Another addition to the policy is the ability for a student's athletic coach to be contacted after two violations, which by definition only applies to athletes. The current policy has no precedent for contacting coaches, while the new policy allows the college to contact coaches in addition to parents.

Chen, who has reviewed community comments on the policy, reported that students and faculty were largely unanimous in praising the removal of fines, as well as the differential treatment of alcohol versus marijuana. Chen also noted that there was a feeling among some faculty that the proposed sanctions on alcohol (e.g. written warnings) would not sufficiently deter students, and that the policy should be more flexible.

According to Chen, some faculty members suggested that the policy handle alcohol-related violations with more nuance, taking into account the specific situations and the dangers it presents. 

"You could be drinking wine in your room alone and watching TV, or you could be drunk-feeding this student that's already pretty intoxicated...which is a totally different level,” Chen said. “So I think faculty are on board with adding more sanctions on behavior that endangers our community members.”

Chen and Kass were both optimistic about the amount of feedback SAC had gotten, which Kass counted as “dozens” of comments by only the second day of open feedback. Chen said that he’s very proud of Pomona’s system for enacting policy changes that incorporate student feedback and hopes the system could be implemented at other colleges in the future.