Potential Sub-Free Consequences Threaten Student Leaders, Athletes

When the sun sets on the first Thursday of the year at Pomona College and the weekend begins, the school’s substance-free policy is just one of several things on students’ minds. Breaking substance-free carries consequences for all students, but it can be especially detrimental for those who hope to hold leadership positions in the future, such as Resident Advisers, athletes, and first-year mentors.

At Pomona, students who break substance-free are not allowed to return to school before classes start the next year for leadership training, preseason, or any other reason. Students are additionally subjected to fines and community service. If a student cannot return for leadership training, they cannot apply to become sponsors, RAs, or Orientation Adventure (OA) leaders. Athletes are also particularly affected by their school’s substance-free policy because a violation can often be detrimental to a team’s practices or potentially the entire season.

In 2011, controversy arose when students selected to be leaders for the OA program were caught violating substance-free. 

“Students were on campus during training week and some of them—over 10 students in total—were caught drinking alcohol and were subsequently placed on the sub-free violation list,” said Martin Crawford, Senior Coordinator of the Outdoor Education Center.

To avoid any future substance-free violations, Crawford said, “we made sure during OA interviews that people understand the seriousness of the issue and that, as a program that’s offered to the incoming students, that we value students that can be responsible and actually respect sub-free.”

Like these student leaders, members of sports teams often have a public role in campus life, and their actions are more likely to be scrutinized by the student body and disciplinary powers than another students’ actions. 

“The dean’s office looks to student athletes to be leaders on campus and be good citizens. And it’s totally fair—it comes with the label of being an athlete. If you come to a school and wear the school jersey and represent it, there comes an extra instance of responsibility and expectation,” said Pomona-Pitzer women’s cross country and track and field coach Kirk Reynolds.

In order to further educate students on substance use and its consequences on campus, the Smith Campus Center sponsored a program called Teaching Alcohol Abuse Prevention (TAAP). Four student leaders host TAAP presentations for first-years, residence hall staff, and for, the first time this fall, student athletes. The program is an addendum to the online AlcoholEdu program that first-years must complete prior to arrival on campus. 

The TAAP students did not initially intend to present to sports teams, but several coaches requested the presentations in order to help student athletes fully understand their school’s substance-free policy.

“We teach a program called TAAP, which is us along with another member of the staff teaching safer drinking strategies … to freshmen,” said Senior Class President Emma Wolfarth PO ‘14, who also the founder of the Title IX Coalition (TIXC). “At the beginning of the year, some of the coaches expressed interest in having sports teams—specifically upperclassmen on sports teams, since they are so closely tied to freshmen in many ways—to go through the same thing.”

TAAP also teaches about sexual assault on campus and about bystander intervention, Wolfarth added.

Talking to sports teams in regard to substance use policies was particularly significant “because a lot of teams self-police themselves,” Wolfarth said. 

In fact, “sometimes there are things that are written in the student code that aren’t always enforced or aren’t enforced evenly,” said Tony Boston, Assistant Professor of Physical Education and Head Coach of P-P men’s cross country and track and field teams.

Boston discussed an incident, the details of which were confirmed by sources who wish to remain anonymous, in which a large portion of the men’s cross-country team was found in violation of substance-free policy at a party held in Millikan Laboratory during preseason before classes started. If the students are not allowed back on campus early—as the student handbook dictates as a consequence for substance-free violations—many of the team members would not be allowed to move back to campus before the start of classes. This could mean members would miss preseason, including potential captains. While the violations have the potential to greatly affect next season’s team, the school’s investigation is pending and no sanctions have yet been decided.

Coaches and department heads alike have been making sure that their students, as well as their colleagues, are actively aware of the substance-free policies in response to these larger scale violations of substance-free opening.

“We had a department meeting … and coaches were made aware that we need to make sure our teams are following the rules and expectations,” Reynolds said.

The dialogue in departments around substance-free opening, the workshops, and other concerted efforts to reinforce the message around substance-free are not unique to athletic teams on campus.

“When you are a member of any group … you need to be aware that your choices and actions can reflect, negatively or positively, on that group,” P-P women’s lacrosse coach Sarah Queener said. 

Whether or not sanctions for breaking substance-free are always enforced equally, they are upheld when it comes time to choose the next year’s leaders. “We made sure during the interviews for OA leaders that … we won’t let people come back if they have any sub-free violations on their record,” Crawford said.

 – Carlos Ballesteros contributed reporting to this article.

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