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Campus drug violations at all-time high

Just like enrollment, campus drug violations are up.

But campus officials aren’t willing to tie the increase in incidents to growth.

“We saw an uptick last year. I don’t really have an explanation,” said Dr. Andrew Johnston, dean of students.

Cases are becoming more frequent and more severe, from last spring’s three drug-related felony arrests with multiple charges, to this year’s first felony occurring one day after freshmen moved in.

For the past three years, drug-related violations, expulsions and suspensions have all been on the rise.

In the 2009-2010 school year, there were 12 violations of the substance-free campus policy; 10 of those ended in suspension or expulsions. A year later, those numbers jumped to 16. For both those school years, the figures include alcohol as well as other drug violations.

In 2011-2012, according to the dean’s office reports that alone there were 27 drug violations (nine expulsions, 19 suspensions). The majority of those involved marijuana but also included all other illicit substances except alcohol.

Belmont’s drug policy states that consumption, possession or intoxication by alcohol or drugs is in violation of Belmont’s community commitments and its substance-free campus policy.

Since each entering class has steadily increased for a decade, it would be easy to attribute the growing numbers to student population. However, both Johnston and Neil Jamerson, the coordinator for student conduct and academic integrity, said they believe that’s not the whole story.

“There really hasn’t been a correlation for the past four years. It doesn’t match enrollment and on-campus incidents,” Jamerson said. Johnston said he feels that the problem is nationwide and follows, at least in part, society’s more tolerant attitude surrounding drugs like marijuana.

A national survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released last fall revealed that marijuana is quickly becoming the drug of choice among young adults. Overall, 6.9 percent of Americans over the age of 12 admitted to using marijuana in 2010, up from 5.8 percent in 2007.

Although the exact class-by-class breakdown is not currently available, Johnston points to an increase of violations among one group in 2011-12.

“The vast majority of substance-free campus violations that I recall were by freshmen,” he said.

But Johnston said it’s too soon to call it a trend, and his office’s interactions about alcohol and drugs are not exclusively with freshmen.

Johnston firmly stated that the zero-tolerance policy still has not shifted.

“We’re not doing something different in enforcement; in fact we’re continuing to be committed to our policy,” Johnston said.

To demonstrate that, Belmont is doing more to increase awareness of the policies and establish the seriousness of maintaining a substance-free campus.

Efforts have included extra sessions during Summer Orientation, to explain the policy; new pamphlets placed in every student’s room on move-in-day; and a school-wide letter reminding students of the policy midway through the 2011-2012 school year.

The letter included a general reminder of both the policy and Belmont’s commitment to maintain a substance-free campus.

“I wanted people to understand that I was talking to them personally and saying, ‘Look, here’s the deal,’” Johnston said.

“Candid and pointed” conversations will continue this year to discourage students from using illegal drugs. “And if we have students doing drugs, they won’t be surprised when we send them home,” he said.

Policy violators may face consequences from both the university and the Metro court system.

If an incident includes the presence of drugs, Metro Nashville Police will be called to the scene as part of an agreement between the university and police. Metro’s investigation is what will eventually decide the legal ramifications in the case.

All students found in violation of Belmont’s policy will receive a hearing with the Community Conduct board.

Belmont’s disciplinary responses always center on three parts: restitution, education and punishment. For all drug cases, whether the substance is marijuana or designer drugs or prescription drugs, the punishment always includes a “separation of the university and the student.”

Whether the students are expelled or suspended depends on the case. However, drug distribution incidents almost always end in expulsion, Johnson said.

For Jamerson, who oversees the Community Conduct board, what really sets the Belmont process apart is the care the school gives to its student.

“We really do come from a place of care, not judging them,” Jamerson said. “We are concerned of their choices in life and the impact on our community.”

Roughly 61 percent of suspended students choose to return to Belmont after the appropriate time has elapsed and sanctions have taken place.

“Our numbers are higher than others, I think because we actually care about them as students,” Jamerson said.

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