Staff ed: School investigation creates witch hunt atmosphere

March 25, 2009 — by 4th period staff

Nineteen “witches” were hanged in Salem during the infamous trials of 1692. All it took was one accusation, a little suspicion and a whole lot of fear. Today, in another town, also beginning with the letter S, a witch trial of its own is brewing. Except this time, the feared entity is not witchcraft, but marijuana.

In recent weeks, the administration, responding to the instances of marijuana use and its sale that came to their attention, has started to pursue and punish drug offenders on campus.

Of course there is nothing wrong with punishing a student for marijuana possession, as long as the administration adheres to the laws for handling such an incident. The problem, however, stems from the fact that instead of merely punishing the students for whom they have solid evidence or searching the bags of those who arouse “reasonable suspicion” (which, by the way, is what exactly?), the administration has been encouraging students to name others as a form of “cooperation” and has been actively pulling any suspected students out of class and subjecting them to questioning.

This method creates a dangerous “us versus them” mentality on campus, closing any lines of communication that could have been used to help alleviate the problem. Students who have never even tried marijuana, much less resorted to selling it on school grounds, are outraged at this investigative tactic and are feeling sympathy for the innocent and guilty alike.

Fearful questions of “who is being called next?” and “could I be implicated?” are circulating around campus as more and more students are being pulled out of class, and not returning. We aren’t a dumb school (have we not proved that, yet?); we know they aren’t going to any farms in the countryside. What they are probably doing is sitting in an office being stared down by the administration, having their personal items strewn about and being told to give names or suffer the consequences.

This method of finding more culprits seems neither ethical nor effective to many students. Just as in Salem, where women accused of witchcraft would often say they had been acting under the spell of another woman, people will point fingers in any direction to be let go. The poor victims of the accusations, even those with nothing to hide, will immediately have their right to privacy revoked (an act that is, unfortunately, legal) and their reputations can be trashed trashed beyond repair. “So-and-so got called into the office, but he didn’t get suspended, he must have talked. Funny, I had no idea he was a dealer.” Modern technology allows rumors to spread like wildfire.

Even for the guilty students, the administration, though it finds its hands tied by district policies in some cases, needs to focus on ways to help these kids, not just ruin their lives by branding them as “drug users or dealers” and throwing them out of the school.

What, really, have these students done? They have made mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, and while this may be a more serious one, it is important to not let one bad decision, or a string of related bad decisions have consequences that will follow them for the rest of their lives. The users were only hurting themselves and the dealers were supplying an ever-increasing demand (at least they paid attention in econ). In fact, the school should be glad that it is a minority of students who are using drugs, and that harder substances or more violent behavior do not run abound on campus, as they do at many other schools.

Here’s a message to administrators: Do not get swept up in the momentum of the investigation. Many students have already gotten the message and stopped using and dealing the drug. There is no point in suspending and/or expelling people who are trying to change. With patience, the problem is likely to shrink on its own, without the witch-hunt atmosphere that is tainting the school.

1 view this week