Crime and Punishment: Accountability in Higher Education and Surrounding Communities

Priya Canzius ’20

At college, the weekend and joints roll up right around the same time. Red solo cups can either be found in between lips or hands. Real IDs are tucked behind the fakes. While this is certainly not every college students’ experience, there is a certain unspoken expectation that teenagers will engage in illegal behaviors once they get to college. Partying in college is not anything new; after all, many adults seem to fondly remember college as the best time of their lives.

But while we at the Claremont Colleges might hear the wail of an ambulance every so often on a weekend night, we very rarely hear the sirens of a police car on the Claremont College campuses… But why?

In an article that appears in Inside Higher Ed, journalist Jake New reports that,“small, private liberal arts colleges tend to have low number of arrests, even with proportionately high numbers of disciplinary referrals… In 2013, private, four-year institutions with enrollments of fewer than 5,000 referred more than 14,000 students for disciplinary action for drug violations. Fewer than 2,000 students were arrested.”

According to a substance abuse report, 25 percent of students in college report detrimental academic effects of their substance abuse. That being said, students on college campuses don’t necessarily face the legal punishments that someone living in a surrounding community might.

“Once you’ve made it into college, you’re in a semi-elite type of situation,” Susan Phillips, Pitzer Professor of Environmental Analysis and expert in urban environments and lifeways (including gangs and the US Prison system) said. “Institutions themselves are able to shield people from involvement with the police in a way that, if a similar situation went down in a neighborhood, even if it was a middle-class neighborhood, it might be a different outcome.”

Why is this?

Prior to deindustrialization within the United States, according to Phillips, “there was a vibrant and robust working class” who was able to get an education and became very readily employable.

“[At that time,] you could even flunk out of high school and still get a decent job and still be able to buy a house and have a life,” Phillips said. “And all of those [working class] people who were needed in that system… might have been drinking, they might have been using drugs and engaging in violence. But, because they were needed in the labor pool, it was functionally impossible to do something like the War on Drugs.”

However, after Globalization and deindustrialization, there was a shift in what deemed a labor class indispensable.

“You had this bifurcation where people were more highly trained,” Phillips said. “Or you had a lower rung of manufacturing, garment work, work that was mostly occupied by immigrant women…That was most certainly a trend: the undercutting out of the working class. When all of those people essentially became fallow, then [the War on Drugs] became possible.”

The War on Drugs began around the early seventies, when then-President Richard Nixon declared that America’s number one enemy was drugs. Since then, the criminal justice system has targeted lower-income communities, which are often majority people of color.

“The launching of the War on Drugs and the initial construction of the new system required the expenditure of tremendous political initiative and resources,” Michelle Alexander said in her book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”. Media campaigns were waged; politicians blasted “soft” judges and enacted harsh sentencing laws; poor people of color were vilified. The system now, however, requires very little maintenance or justification. In fact, if you are white and middle class, you might not even realize the drug war is still going on… Crack is out, terrorism is in.”

Although the media is no longer spreading mass panic about recreational drug use in the United States in the same way that it did in the seventies, people in all classes of society continue to use drugs.

“People use drugs recreationally, and people are addicted to drugs at all levels of society,” Phillips said. “[However,] when you’re poor and you’re using drugs, maybe you don’t have the money to purchase the drugs, maybe you get involved in a scenario where…You’re an addict and you don’t have the [means] to figure your way around that. Drug use, when you’re poor, also tends to be more out in the open and on the streets, where people are buying their drugs.”

On a college campus, drug use looks different.

“When you’re talking about [drug use] at a college campus, it means that people can use drugs recreationally” Phillips said. “They don’t have to steal to get drugs because they have money. The sources are different, the way they are procuring their drugs are different, and the patterns of use are different.”

Because institutions of higher education are not required to employ members of the police force as their campus security, students are not necessarily bound to the same laws that members of the outside community might be.

“Students are considered valuable assets to building a common future, and so they are not targeted by the police,” Phillips said. “When there’s trouble with drugs, oftentimes campuses will have their own way to curtail and deal with them that don’t involve the police.”

Wealth often feels implied when it comes to higher education, and this is the case when it comes to the way the criminal justice system reacts to drug use on college campuses.

“In the case where someone would get caught, the narrative… tends to be ‘oh this person needs help, they need to go to rehab’,” Phillips said. “Clearly they’re worth investing in in that way. And then their parents foot the bill for that. When you’re on the street, and say you get caught, no one is going to say, “this person needs help”. No one can afford to pay for this person to go to private rehab [or] for a fancy lawyer to keep that person out of jail the way they would in a college setting if the law becomes involved. Then, you have a disparity where people who are using drugs are being penalized at much greater rates by virtue of their race and socioeconomic status.”

In the cases of public institutions of higher education versus private institutions, large, public colleges and universities will sometimes refer more students for drug violations than arrest them. Sometimes, however, the disciplinary referrals and arrests are equal, and sometimes the arrests outnumber the disciplinary referrals.

“In instances where a Scripps staff member, Campus Safety, or other member of the community discovers that a student is inebriated, the priority is to ensure the student receives any required medical attention,” Scripps College Marketing and Communications said. “The matter will also be referred to the College’s dedicated alcohol and drug counselor, who will work with the student to help make better choices regarding their alcohol use, as well as help reduce the risk of harmful individual behaviors related to alcohol.”

Any drug-related paraphernalia is destroyed, according to the College.

As a result, according to Phillips, “you have a disparity where people who are using drugs are being penalized at much greater rates by virtue of their race and socioeconomic status.”

The War on Drugs is not only racist, but is also economically detrimental to the people who are incarcerated for these non-violent drug offenses.

“The decision to prosecute drug offenses not only means that we are sending people to relatively short stints of prison time instead of providing longer-term solutions to addiction like drug treatment, but also that we are giving people life-long criminal records that can prevent future employment, exclude them from public housing, and lead to harsher punishments for future crimes,” Bernadette Rabuy said in a Prison Policy Initiative article. “Drug charges — and their frequent mandatory minimum sentencing — also give prosecutors leverage to compel guilty pleas on other offenses that possibly wouldn’t have resulted in a conviction otherwise.”

Moreover, students attending high school are required to disclose their disciplinary history to colleges that they apply to, and must answer “whether [they’ve] been suspended, expelled or put on probation for any disciplinary violation”, according to an article in the Washington Post. In cases of students being arrested during school, black students account for the majority of these arrests.

These students- although they too might join the workforce in the following few years- are not given the same protection that students who are already in higher education enjoy.

In higher education, students are more protected than their counterparts in surrounding communities. Violent offenses, such as sexual assault, are also treated differently on college campuses.

“A college process is an internal disciplinary procedure, the purpose of which is to adjudicate whether someone is or is not responsible for a policy violation,” Sally Steffen, Title IX coordinator said. “At a big picture level, the goal of college and university policies is to establish a set of community standards and expectations around a variety of issues, including prohibiting discrimination, protecting safety, and maintaining academic integrity, and to hold people accountable when they violate these standards. Sexual assault is prohibited under the Title IX policies of all of The Claremont Colleges. If a member of the consortium community accuses another member of the community of sexual assault, they have the option of pursuing a case under the relevant college’s grievance procedure.”

At the Claremont Colleges, if there is a matter involving students from different campuses, the disciplinary procedure can differ depending on which colleges are involved.

“It is the policy of the respondent’s (accused party) college that applies to resolve a Title IX complaint because the respondent’s home college has the power to discipline if the respondent is found responsible for a policy violation,” Steffen said.

Details about the policies and grievance procedures of the 7Cs can be found on Title IX’s 7C Violence Prevention and Advocacy page.

“The standard for determining a policy violation under all the procedures is “preponderance of the evidence” or “more likely than not,”” Steffen said. “Terms common in the criminal setting such as defendant, guilt, innocence, sentencing, or trial are not applicable in the college context.”

Moreover, with an internal disciplinary procedure, the consequences look different as well. According to Steffen, “the most severe sanction for violation of a college policy is expulsion”.

However, the criminal justice system may get involved at the victim’s request.
“Some conduct that violates college policy may constitute criminal conduct under California law, and anyone who believes they have been a victim of a crime has the right to report to the police in lieu of or in addition to seeking redress at the college level,” Steffen said. These includes cases of rape, domestic violence, and stalking, according to Steffen.

These cases are investigated by the police (rather than the Colleges) and can lead to the respondent’s imprisonment. However, for cases like these, the “evidentiary standard for determining a criminal violation is beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to Steffen.

Under the Clery Act, colleges report sexual assault cases to the Education Department. The reporting of sexual assault can vary due to the existence of Title IX offices on campus, as well as the amount of communication students are able to have with required personnel at their college.

The findings here are different than they are for drug offenses. In sexual assault cases where women are the victims, the acceptance rate of the institution where a woman received her education is not a determinant of her likelihood of being assaulted.

According to Steffen, “both public and private schools that participate in the federal financial aid system have Title IX policies and procedures. Respondents at public colleges may also have some rights under the U.S. Constitution that would not apply to a respondent at a private college. It is up to courts to interpret exactly what this means in the context of university adjudication processes, including Title IX procedures.”

According to a 1995 study that was cited it Inside Higher Ed, New reports that, “female students from elite Ivy League institutions were not at a lower risk of sexual victimization than at any other institutions. At the same time, economically privileged students at all institutions — as measured by the level of education attained by their mothers — were more likely to be victims of sexual assault.”

This, according to New, can be attributed to the fact that students with more money are likely to attend more parties and are able to afford the drugs, alcohol, and, sometimes, transportation fees that are often identified with partying.

This is not to say that wealthier students in any way deserve this statistic, just that the statistic exists.

While sexual assault is certainly a violent crime, in our society, it is often “hidden… and is not a priority… both on a college campus and communities that are targeted by the criminal justice system,” Phillips said. “Sexual assault isn’t taken as seriously and it remains a kind of invisible thing that people don’t speak up about in the same kinds of ways.”

Most crimes are treated differently in higher education than they are in surrounding communities, and because of this, there are fewer incarceration rates for students than there are people in the general population.

When it comes to drug offenses, “you could argue that that shielding [against the criminal justice system outside of higher education] is a good thing, that it’s a slightly less virulent and paranoid way of dealing with drug use on a college campus,” Phillips said. “The conventional wisdom is ‘these kids are trying hard, they mess up, they need a second chance, and we can work with them’.”

Moreover, those in the middle and upper class are incarcerated less than their lower-income peers for their drug use.

“If you have a [Bachelor’s Degree], you have a certain earning power, [and] you have the ability to hold a job, if you’re lucky,” Phillips said. “[Additionally,] it means that maybe you’re living in a town that isn’t struggling with issues of crime.”

However, in lower-income neighborhoods that are already being targeted by the prison system, offenders are not offered the same opportunity.

“Where police tend to look for crime is in poorer neighborhoods, and so there’s targeted surveillance that happens in poorer neighborhoods that already struggle with crime,” Phillips said. “It tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, because then their involvement with the prison system weakens those communities further. It often derails them from any potential for forward motion that they have in society.”

And so members of poorer communities are sent into the prison system to be held accountable for their criminal actions, rather than to a rehabilitation center to be treated for potential addictions. Arguably, the prison system does not teach accountability either, as evidenced by the 43-50 percent recidivism rate for repeat drug offenses for drugs other than cocaine.

But, “the way that [addiction] plays out in the middle-class and upper class is very different because those challenges are not compounded by involvement with the prison systems and the police,” Phillips said. “Many people wind up dysfunctional in middle class families… and are [still] able to proceed with their lives because of the privilege that they have that in part comes from not being targeted by the criminal justice system.”

It’s difficult to be a college student and to never have engaged in any sort of illegal activity; after all, we are not the intended targets of the criminal justice system. In a community where getting a bad grade on a test can be more stressful than walking by Campus Safety with a red solo cup in hand, it can be hard to understand whether or not to feel accountable for illegal actions.

With some of us heading into well-regarded jobs that require habitual drug tests and others into well-paying industries where cocaine use is considered the norm, it is necessary to take a step back and realize that while privilege is be a hard pill to swallow, you’re less likely to be held accountable for swallowing it with a B.A. in your hand.

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