Drugs at Reed, and Attitudes toward drugs in general
When Ampersand added me to his blogroll
(which is still so amazingly awesome) he made this off-hand remark:
Also, he's a Reed student, so I assume he's on drugs.
I don't begrudge him this joke. It's funny. I laughed at it, I still laugh at it. It's an amusing satire that neither targets myself nor Reed, but rather Americans' rather unenlightened attitudes toward drugs.
What can be lost in all this, however, is how dangerous these attitudes can be.
The prevailing (exaggerated) attitude toward Reed among outsiders is that Reed is just a school full of druggies, that drugs are unusually prevalent here, and really is full of druggies. This is of course a ridiculous view, of course. But the reasons behind this view are alarming.
First of all, people on campus often talk about the Reed bubble, a sort of impenetrable barrier separating Reed from the rest of the world. There are two reasons as I see it for the existence of this bubble:
First, Reed is among the most academically rigorous undergraduate institutions in the nation, if not the world. I felt the blunt of this first-hand this semester, as my course load was just slightly over my personal threshhold. My friend Alex told me one day, "You know, the sad thing is I'll come back to this campus someday after maybe ten or twenty years, and I won't remember the dorms I lived in or the commons [dining hall], but I'll remember the library. Like, 'hey look, that chair. I remember sitting there.'" And it's true. I barely left campus at all this past semester. I managed to visit my family in Beaverton once, and I haven't been downtown at all.
But, the second reason is that Reed College is a rather autonomous, self-contained community. We are governed by the Honor Principle, which is a complex, rather lucid guideline that is very hard to explain and is essential in understanding the Reed Community. The difficulty in explaining the Honor Principle is the main reason I almost never write about the goings on about Reed, and am rather offended when an outsider attempts to make a blanket judgment about the Reed Community. The guiding principle is that we, as college students, are adults and deserve to be treated as thus. We are empowered to make our own decisions in our lives within and outside Reed College, and take responsibility for the consequences of those decisions, whatever they may be.
Which brings me to the subject of drugs. Reed College does not officially condone drug use, but there aren't any strong antidrug statements in Reed College policy either. I'm not sure what Reed's drug policy is exactly, but in practice it means that official employees of Reed College intervene only where necessary, which amounts to if public or individual safety is the concern, or law enforcement is involved. What this brings about is not necessarily more drug use than in most colleges, but certainly more open use of drugs.
But this openness, far from being a problem, I would contend makes the inevitable campus drug use considerably safer. First of all, I should note that the only prevalent illiegal drug is marijuana, which, despite what the ads say, is not dangerous in occasional recreational use, and is in fact far safer than alcohol, but that's a separate issue. Harder drugs like ecstasy, cocaine, acid and so on are around, but are very rare and mostly used for special occasions.
So what do people mean when they say that drug use on Reed Campus is prevalent? There's alcohol and tobacco, but since almost all the students are over 18, and maybe about half are over 21, so these are legal, and therefore can be ignored. There's marijuana, but the state of marijuana today is pretty close to the state of alcohol during prohibition. Frankly, although I don't want to get into this argument right now, I would say that the damage caused by making marijuana illegal far outweighs the damage that could come from legalizing it. And besides, you'd be hard pressed to find a college in the country where marijuana is not prevalent, so I'll ignore this. That leaves the harder drugs.
And this is where Reed's more lax attitudes toward drugs foster a safer environment. Let's face it, college is a time where many people will experiment with drugs. As the South Park episode says, "there's a time and place for everything, and it's called college." And no matter what the rules are, or the environment, if someone really wants to get drugs, he/she will.
So let's consider the following situation as it would occur on a campus with a zero-tolerance policy. Two friends try tabs of acid to celebrate passing some test or something. One of the friends is fine, but the other reacts adversely (now mind you as I continue to extrabpolate, my general naivete regarding most drugs may create a not exactly realistic situation here, but this is all hypothetical anyway, so eat your heart out). Now the first friend has a situation - his friend needs medical attention, but if he calls for help among campus authorities, he and his friend could be expelled as part of the no tolerance policy. One would hope that this person would risk it and get help, but the fact that this creates an ordeal is the inherent danger.
Now let's transpose these friends to Reed. The first friend knows that if he calls the Community Safety Office, they'll send someone to help his friend so that his friend will receive medical attention as appropriate, and moreover, unless the police want to be involved (which is unlikely) he won't be punished for bringing this to the attention of the campus authorities. There is no ordeal, no incentives to do anything but help his friend, and that is why things are safer.
The beauty of Reed is that everybody is looking out for everybody else. In events like Renn Fayre this past weekend, it makes for an unusually controlled environment in seemingly uncontrolled circumstances. Let's face it, Reed has to be doing something right here.