5C Drug Use Reports Paint Distorted Picture

The Claremont Colleges reported widely varying rates of illegal drug and alcohol use in their 2010 campus crime reports, raising questions about how reliably the published statistics reflect the substance culture of each campus. Administrators across the 5Cs said that the Jeanne Clery Reports, which American colleges publish annually to comply with a federal law requiring schools to release crime and drug use statistics for their campuses, may offer a distorted comparison because different schools use different procedures to produce data on drug and alcohol violations.

The number of reported liquor law violations in 2010 at the 5Cs ranged from one referral at Harvey Mudd College (HMC) to 101 referrals at Pomona College. Pitzer College led the consortium in reported drug violations with 35, compared to one drug referral at HMC.

Despite the official records, some administrators at the 5Cs expressed doubt over the report’s implication that HMC students are 35 times less likely to use illegal drugs than Pitzer students, or that they follow alcohol laws 101 times more diligently than their counterparts at Pomona. Disparities such as these, some administrators suggested, might be better explained by wide disparities in reporting systems.

Miriam Feldblum, Vice President and Dean of Students at Pomona, said that Pomona’s relatively high number of reported alcohol violations may have to do with the college’s data-gathering process, which accounts for all substance policy violations handled by the Office of Campus Life (OCL) and the student-chaired Judicial Board. According to Feldblum, Pomona’s reported violations include cases where no fine or sanction was imposed on the student.

“We report more incidents than the other campuses,” she said. “Do I think that that’s reflective of what’s actually happening on the other campuses? I don’t know.”

Maggie Browning, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students at HMC, said that her school’s system for keeping track of drug and alcohol violations is based on the college’s Honor Code, which dictates that students file a report when they break substance policy or observe other students committing such a violation. Guy Gerbick, Senior Associate Dean of Students at HMC, said he sometimes reports students who refuse to turn themselves in after being named in Campus Safety incident reports, but this is the exception.

“Most of the people who go through our judicial system get there either because they’ve self-reported or because someone has brought it to our attention,” Browning said.

Gerbick said that he gathers all data on drug and alcohol policy violations for the Clery Report by looking at substance policy cases documented by the student-run honor boards. In 2010, the two reported substance policy violations at HMC were recorded in the case summaries of HMC’s Disciplinary Board.

“Our office doesn’t directly handle alcohol and drug violations. It’s all student-run,” Gerbick said. “I’ve chosen to [gather data] this way because it allows it to be traceable consistently over time.”

According to Gerbick, the student chair of HMC’s Disciplinary Board can choose to dismiss a case without trial or settlement, possibly resulting in a substance policy violation that does not count toward the Clery Report. He added, however, that such decisions are too rare to have much of an effect on the report’s accuracy.

Even by HMC’s standards, 2010 was a quiet year for documented drug and alcohol violations, Gerbick said. The college reported 37 alcohol referrals in 2009, and Gerbick said that there have already been about 30 substance violations in 2011 that will show up on the next Clery Report. Many of these violations, he added, came during the mandatory substance-free period at the beginning of the semester.

Still, Gerbick said that differences between HMC’s substance violation statistics and those of the other colleges may be caused largely by different reporting procedures.

“There’s so much opportunity for variation in referral and how different systems are run,” he said. “I think a campus visit is probably a better indicator [than the Clery Report] about what the climate is for alcohol and drugs on a campus.”

One protocol that varies among the 5Cs is how each school treats self-reported drug and alcohol violations. Gerbick said that self-reporting is the “primary method” by which HMC collects this data. Jefferson Huang, Vice President for Student Affairs at Claremont McKenna College (CMC), on the other hand, said that his school does not include self-disclosed substance policy violations in its Clery Report.

The colleges also differ when it comes to handling alcohol policy violations by students of legal drinking age. Feldblum said that Pomona does not include alcohol violations by students over 21 in the Clery Report because these violations are not state or federal crimes. Huang, however, said that CMC’s report accounts for of-age students who violated the substance-free week.

Huang said that despite the inconvenience of comparing data across colleges that use different reporting methods, he was not aware of any local or national movement to make schools adopt a more common system.

“I don’t think anyone is to the point of saying there needs to be some standardization of what the colleges are actually doing with this data,” he said.

The Clery Reports for all seven Claremont Colleges and the Claremont University Consortium (CUC) are available on CUC’s website. In an email to The Student Life, Director of Campus Safety Shahram Ariane stressed that the Clery Reports cover only crimes that are committed on college property.

“The Clery Report does not include crimes occurring off-campus, but crime stats for the City of Claremont are available at [the Claremont Police Department],” he wrote.

CUC, Claremont Graduate University (CGU), and Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) reported no drug or alcohol violations on their property in 2010. KGI has not reported a single crime in its past five Clery Reports.

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