The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Smoke Pot, Get Caught, Lose College Funding

It’s high time we halt the relentless discrimination against individuals convicted of drug-related crimes.

I recently learned of a ban on federal financial aid for students with drug convictions. Under this ban even a single, minor drug charge or violation (including possession of drug paraphernalia) will prevent a student from receiving financial aid for college. In other words, that funky Phish bong you picked up at Pipe Dream could cost you more than just retail.

As the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) notes, “This means that if your parents can afford to pay for college, you will be unaffected by this measure. But for low or middle income students, this misguided provision could mean the end of a college education and all of the advantages it offers.”

So, if you’ve got college costs covered, why should you care?

First of all, this ban unjustly continues to penalize students with drug convictions, even after their debt to society has been paid. By preventing students convicted for drug offenses from receiving financial aid for education, it’s as if our government has added to their sentence. The condemnation of these students to a bleak future, devoid of intellectual growth and employment opportunities afforded by college education, is essentially cruel and unusual punishment.

Second, this ban is discriminatory and counter-productive to its intended purpose. As Brandon Conaway, a writer for the Northern Iowan (a student paper published by the University of Northern Iowa, cited from Vol. 103, No. 14), argues:

“It may seem justified that breaking the law can result in a loss of federal aid. However, the law only applies to drug convictions. This means that a convicted murderer or rapist can still get financial aid, while someone convicted of misdemeanor possession of marijuana cannot. There is also no conclusive proof that the provision deters drug use – the major reason the provision was implemented in the first place.”

The only conclusion that can be made about this ban is that it will do more to harm society, than it does to improve it. As The ACLU remarks;

“In essence, this provision does nothing to help disadvantaged students struggling with substance abuse problems, but it does block access to education for those who are already at risk of being shoved to society’s margins. [Furthermore,] it will have a racially discriminatory impact. Drug enforcement already focuses heavily on minority communities. Recent Department of Justice statistics show that African Americans make up 12 percent of the population and 13 percent of drug offenders, but represent more and more then 70 percent of incarcerations for drug possession. Hispanics are overrepresented as well. More than half of all federal powder cocaine prosecutions are against Hispanics, even though they do not use drugs at a greater rate than their population (approximately 10 percent).

Blocking access to education is counter-productive. If students are experimenting with drugs, forcing them to drop out of college will only make it harder for them to become successful, productive members of society.”

If higher education and the subsequent promise of increased employment opportunities are not options for someone with a prior drug conviction, what alternatives can we suggest?

At the crux of this legislation is a grave misunderstanding about the causes and treatment of drug addiction. The majority of American society views drug addiction as a moral issue rather than a chronic mental illness that often requires lifelong treatment. The fact is that for most chronic drug abusers who are unable to stay “clean,” the path of addiction usually leads to prison, confinement to institutions, or death.

Those who serve time for drug offenses discover that once they are out of prison, the stigma associated with drug convictions makes life difficult. Incidentally, recovering addicts find trouble acquiring adequate employment and are afforded little choice but to enter the welfare system. To make matters worse, many non-violent drug offenders facing incarceration have no, or else strained, family relations and social support. As a result, children (the innocent victims) of drug addicts often wind up in the custody of Child Protection Services (CPS). Therefore, the unintentional result of this ban is a burden to American taxpayers, the prison system, and the economy.

Defending the rights of these members of society is an important issue for me. Through my volunteer work, I have become acquainted with those at greatest risk for being victimized by this provision. Two years ago, while working as an Art Therapy volunteer, I was introduced to low-income women in a drug & alcohol detox facility. Many of the treatment center’s clients (women of all ages) arrive in poor physical health, with no material possessions left, and no place to live. Despite their difficult financial and emotional circumstances, these women fearlessly struggle to stay clean and rebuild their future.

Upon witnessing their return to health, I have developed a deep respect and sympathy for people battling addiction. The women in recovery whom I have met understand that higher education and better employment is the gateway to a better life for both themselves and their children. Thus, it is inexcusable to permit a ban that robs any American citizen (whether they suffer from addiction or not) the opportunity to pursue the noble goal of higher learning.

My parents (both devout Christian Protestants) have a familiar religious phrase they like to recite. It serves as a reminder that we are not so different (or any better) than our fellows:

“There, but for the Grace of God, go I…”

As college students and fellow citizens, we cannot sit by and permit our government to deny the betterment of these, or any individual, the opportunity for an education, regardless of his or her past indiscretions. We should do all we can to provide each other with an equal opportunity to learn and grow: both in terms of increased tolerance and understanding of addiction, and in terms of continued academic learning.

Take Action! Urge your Representatives to Reform the Higher Education Act!


About the writer:

Julie Ross is a sophomore Psychology and Studio Arts Major. She can be reached at [email protected]

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