Right now at DePaul University there is a group of students trying to form a campus organization called Students for Cannabis Policy Reform.
As the name of the group suggests, the purpose of this organization according to their official mission statement is to “lobby and influence, by legal means, local representatives and lawmakers to reform the laws and policies regarding the Cannabis Sativa plant. Emphasis will also be put on informing the public of the advantages or benefits of such policy reform.”
In theory, these students are well within their rights to form such a group, especially since DePaul’s organizations policy aims to promote “robust debate and exposure to differing points of view,” and the school’s student handbook states that “Students have the right to their own ideas, beliefs and political associations.”
So, last spring these students filed an application for official recognition from the University. They waited until September 15 for a response. Finally, Director of Student Life Suzanne Kilgannon issued a formal rejection of the group’s application, issuing the follow statement: “Despite our best arguments, our vice president feels very strongly that having an approved group on campus would send an institutional message that he believes we are not prepared to manage.”
The Students for Cannabis Policy Reform were discarded because of the cultural stereotypes and stigmas of marijuana and those who use is it recreationally or advocate for its legality. Even though the group’s intent is to challenge political ideas and laws that they feel are unfair—and not to simply advocate the illegal consumption of the plant— DePaul claims that by recognizing the group, it sends an institutional message of advocacy. This is an interesting theory on behalf of DePaul.
To accept this notion would be to say that DePaul advocates the messages of every official student group that it has approved, regardless of their political or social stance. If this were the case, DePaul as an institution would be fundamentally contradictory and confused. Smothering Students for Cannabis Policy Reform violates the University’s proposed mission of free expression and association that is so important to a liberal education. The school has broken an authentic attempt by some of its students to contribute towards a real marketplace of ideas and cultural growth.
In short, DePaul is guilty of the worst crime that an educational institution can commit: contradicting their mission statement and subsequently doing their students a serious injustice.
The message DePaul’s administration has sent forth is one of intolerance and insularity. The image they portray of themselves is not that of an institution against illegal drugs, but primarily of an institution with an insincere hidden agenda. In light of this incident, it is hard to claim there is a free exchange of ideas in DePaul’s political marketplace, as the University’s mission statement contends. There is only a confusion of the school’s mission statement and denial of an environment where diversity of opinions is upheld.
Fortunately, the students who are the victims of this hypocritical administration of DePaul are not accepting it. They contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a group that represents civil rights in education and fights injustice on behalf of those who do not have the means. FIRE sent a letter to the President of DePaul, and in return received a response from the Vice President of Student Affairs defending the school’s actions. They are currently engaged in an ongoing campaign to reverse the decision and publicize the school’s antics.
I commend these select students at DePaul University for their efforts. This story’s moral has developed into more than an advocacy of legalizing marijuana. It is much deeper than that. This controversy takes root in the writings of Thoreau, particularly his famous essay on civil disobedience where he implores citizens to take action against laws and legislation they feel unjust.
Thoreau’s ideas and practical actions in the mid-1800’s have become clichés, fueling a generation of anti-establishment peace-seekers in the 60s and momentarily inspiring almost every high school student who first reads his counter-cultural words. Few are those who actually practice the ideas addressed in Civil Disobedience; these DePaul students are providing us with a tangible example.
The Students for Cannabis Policy Reform are dedicated to an effort of raising awareness against bad and unjust legislation, and now their project has come up against an enormous institution that has unfairly ignored them. As the largest Catholic university in America, it is safe to say that the group’s adversary is a powerful one.
One should not have to be in favor of legalizing marijuana to feel compelled by this cause. It is a present example of the dangers of institutional introspection and the importance of upholding accountability.
To rally behind the Students for Cannabis Policy Reform, simply visit the FIRE homepage at thefire.org. There you can send a personal or pre-written message directly to the President of DePaul University, from one power institution to another.