Letter to the Editor from SHARE’s Policy and Accountability Committee: Reed’s Need for an AOD Amendment

CW: This amendment concerns the issue of non-consensual intoxication, which may be triggering for some readers. We advise all those reading to prioritize their own wellbeing, and to feel free to stop reading or take breaks at any time if you foresee this topic may be personally distressing for you. You may also consider returning to this article at a different time, when you are in a safe space both physically and mentally.

According to the college’s website, Reed’s Alcohol and Other Drug Policy (AOD Policy or AODP) “is intended to define the expectations of the college with respect to alcohol and other drugs, to clarify the consequences of failing to abide by these expectations, and to identify the resources available within the College Community to assist in dealing with AOD related problems.” The students of the Sexual Health and Relationship Abuse Education (SHARE) Policy and Accountability Committee have proposed an amendment to this AOD policy to the student senate, which they believe will greatly benefit all current and incoming students. 

In the current AOD policy, it is not considered a violation of policy to give someone alcohol or other drugs without their knowledge or consent. We take issue with this lack of policy because we believe the college should expect all community members not to give others alcohol or other drugs against their will or without their knowledge, and should administer consequences to those who do not abide by that expectation. The proposed amendment to the AOD policy reads as follows:

“AOD Policy Proposed Amendment: Non-Consensual Administration of Alcohol or Other Drugs

It is a violation of this policy to provide someone with a beverage, food, or other substance that contains alcohol or other drugs without informing them of the contents, regardless of whether the person consumes the substance; suffers any adverse effects from consuming the substance; or suffers additional harm as a result of consuming the substance. Any alleged violation of this policy shall be addressed as a Level IV response.”

This proposed policy amendment was submitted to the student senate by members of the SHARE Policy and Accountability Committee on January 27th, modified for clarity and resubmitted to the student senate on February 17th. It was submitted to the legislation committee on Friday [sic] 24, 2023, and at the time of this publication was also scheduled to be reviewed by the faculty Community Affairs Committee [sic]. The SHARE Policy and Accountability Committee sincerely hopes to pass this amendment through the student and faculty senates as quickly as possible to ensure the safety and autonomy of our beloved community, but we will need the help of our community to do so. We humbly ask that you please contact your student and faculty senators to express your support of this amendment to the AODP in whatever capacity you feel comfortable. 

FAQs (prepared by Rowan Frost, SHARE program director)

Q. Why is this amendment being proposed now? 

A. SHARE advocates would like to see the amendment become effective before the fall 2023 orientation week. During both the 2021 and 2022 orientation weeks, first-year female students of color (among the most vulnerable students on campus) said they experienced unexpected levels of intoxication after accepting drinks from other students; they later stated that they believed that the drinks had been adulterated. 

For many years, SHARE advocates have been contacted by students who were sexually assaulted while incapacitated after being given food or drink that they expected to cause no or very mild intoxication. SHARE advocates believe that by changing the policy and educating current and incoming students about it, the college affirms its commitment to safety and consent, discourages people from trying to administer drugs or alcohol without consent, and encourages people who have experienced harm to report and seek accountability. 

Q. Why is this an issue that requires amending the AOD policy?

A. The AOD policy currently does not specifically prohibit providing someone a substance without informing them of its contents. This means that the behavior does not violate Reed’s policies and cannot be dealt with through Reed’s AOD processes. 

Q. It’s illegal, isn’t it? Why not rely on the law?

A. In Oregon it is a felony to cause another person to ingest a substance without consent. Many criminal acts are also prohibited by Reed policies (sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence, for example). Making it a policy violation allows but does not require a target of the behavior to engage with law enforcement, and allows the college to deal with the alleged behavior through its own processes. Section I.B. of the AOD policy states that several behaviors are illegal and a policy violation. (Note: we recommend adding the amendment to this section.)

The proposed amendment is different than the law in that it does not require the substance to be ingested or harm to result in order for the behavior to constitute a violation of policy: the act of providing someone with a substance containing drugs or alcohol without giving them the information they need to decide whether or not to ingest it is sufficient to constitute a violation of policy. 

Q. Most Reedies would consider it an honor violation; why not use the college’s Honor Council to deal with it? 

A. It is precisely because most Reedies would consider providing alcohol or drugs without notifying the recipient an honor violation that the AOD policy should be amended to reflect community standards. The Honor Council might still be used if the target of the behavior chooses that route; but sanctions cannot be imposed by the Council. 

Q. Why are alleged violations to be dealt with by a Level IV response? 

A. Potentially harming another person should be dealt with seriously. Section VI.B. of the AOD policy allows the AOD review panel to assign sanctions (below the level of suspension or expulsion), or to refer the matter to the Dean of Student Life for consideration as a Level V response. 

Q. I think that only knowingly providing someone with a substance should be prohibited; why isn’t the amendment written that way? 

A. Alcohol and drugs should be monitored so that they cannot be unintentionally ingested. We want to avert situations in which someone might place a substance in food or a beverage where it is accessible, and then state that they did not know the person would ingest it. For example, someone might put a plate of brownies with cannabis on a buffet table without a notice indicating the contents. We don’t want them to be able to argue that they didn’t know someone would eat them. In the example, if someone else unknowingly offered the pot brownie to a third party, that person could claim their lack of knowledge as a defense to violation; the person who put the brownies on the table would be in violation.

Q. The proposed amendment prohibits the act of providing a substance without informing others of what’s in it, even if it’s not ingested and no harm occurs. If no harm results, why should it be prohibited? 

A. For the same reason that we prohibit cheating even if it doesn’t hurt other students’ grades; or prohibit having dogs off leash unless in the off leash areas. The behavior violates community standards, and the potential for harm is enough to restrict the behavior.

Q. Isn’t spiking a punch bowl a harmless rite of passage? This sounds like overreach.

A. People may be in recovery from addiction; they may be taking medications that have side effects when combined with alcohol or drugs; or their moral or religious convictions may not permit them to ingest substances. Regardless of whether or not harm results, non-consensually providing alcohol or drugs carries the potential of harm. 

Q. Isn’t it the responsibility of the person taking the substance to confirm the contents? 

A. Reed is a community of care. The vast majority of Reedies would never intentionally give a diabetic person a full-sugar soft drink when they were expecting a diet drink; or give a vegan a baked good containing butter; or change the labels on baked goods so that someone allergic to nuts thought they were taking nut-free cookies. This amendment affirms our community’s commitment to consent in all things. It does not limit someone’s autonomy to knowingly ingest a substance. It recognizes that acts that can cause harm should be prohibited, regardless of whether harm actually results. 

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