It was back in February when President of the College Karen Lawrence sent the student body an email about the College’s decision to go smoke-free. It came as a shock to many, who were expecting a major revision of the current policy but not a complete ban of smoking on campus.
Most students who were around in 2012 remember the Smoke Policy Taskforce who began in April 2012, a ten month-long process consisting of reviewing the current policies and New York State regulations regarding smoking on college campuses, Town Hall Meetings, a survey sent out to the community asking for their input, and reviewed reports from Security and Student Affairs on the problems regarding the current smoking policy on campus. Comprised of administrators, students, and faculty, many of whom were current or former smokers, they hoped to address these concerns.
Many students at the time assumed that the school was possibly going to go with the option of setting up designated smoking areas around campus. By the end of the investigation in February 2013, the taskforce voted on one of two options to recommend to Karen Lawrence and the rest of the school administration: either to create designated smoking areas or ban smoking from the campus completely. The majority voted for the ban, and President Lawrence formally accepted the ban at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.
The main reasons for this ban, according to the final recommendation from the taskforce, was to eliminate second-hand smoke and reduce the amount of cigarette butts scattered throughout campus. Director of Health Services and a member of the taskforce, Mary Hartnett, said that although smoking is banned, being in possession of tobacco products and using tobacco products that don’t require smoking, such as chewing tobacco, are not prohibited under the new policy. She did, however, mention that the use of electronic cigarettes (E-cigarettes) are banned under the new policy, stating that there is some evidence that the vapor given off of by E-cigarettes is harmful.
Upon the final decision to go smoke-free, the school began to set up a Smoke Free Policy Implementation Committee to educate and gradually prepare the community for the change, which could be jarring to the community otherwise. Hartnett is heading the committee and has been hard at work since March of this year managing it. The committee has since been divided into four smaller subcommittees, which include Policy Writing, Smoking Cessation, Campus Education, and Communication and Marketing. Each subcommittee has its own responsibility to make the transition to a smoke-free campus as smooth as possible.
One of the ways the Implementation Committee has been educating the campus about the new policy is by hosting focus group meetings for students, faculty and staff. A focus group for the students was held on Oct.15, in which students were given the opportunity to voice their opinions on how to better educate the community. A similar focus group was offered for faculty earlier this month. Besides education, the Policy Writing subcommittee is currently looking into refining the policy so that it is fair to everyone on campus.
“What we’re looking at is a potential graduated fine for first-time, second-time, and third-time offenders,” said Dean of Student Affairs, Paige Crandall. “And this would apply for everyone, including students, faculty, and staff.”
Though the school has been claiming that the new policy will be beneficial for the entire community, there have been students in opposition. One concern brought up by Senior Class President Emily Rogers (’15) was that there was a lack of communication between the taskforce and the student body concerning whether or not a ban was even being seriously considered.
“While I do not believe in some kind of ‘tyranny of the majority’, what I will say is that it is rather disconcerting that it was not communicated to the students that a ban was even in the picture. [I am] saying this as someone who was on Senate the year this was discussed,” Rogers said.
Another concern was whether the policy was too excessive. Many students still believe that the designated smoking areas are a better alternative than an outright ban. “We’re going after an acorn with a sledgehammer,” said Will Duffield (’15) in regards to smoking-related litter being one of the justifications for the ban. “It’s a supremely disproportionate response to ban smoking across campus.”
In addition, there is a concern of how effective the policy will be and whether students will adhere to it. According to the survey sent out to the SLC community by the taskforce, while 40 percent of students who responded said that they would abide by the policy, 49 percent said that they would find a way to use tobacco anyway.
Some students have reacted to the new policy with protest. Several students coordinated a “Smoke-In” on Oct. 13 at the Yoko Ono structure. Organized by students Adriana Lucci (’15) and Catherine Readick (’15), the event was meant to highlight the students’ disapproval of the new policy. On the Smoke-In Facebook event page, it was stated: “Of course smoking is an unhealthy activity. But to ban it all together, completely opposing compromise is not right. I believe that the ban that is going to be passed was not properly shared with the community of Sarah Lawrence.” The organizers added that people who participated did not have to be smokers, and would be very welcome to stand with the protest. Lucci stated that they intend to hold more protests of this nature in the near future.
Though there are a number of students on campus who are still opposed to this new policy, Hartnett emphasized that it was in fact a number of students and the Committee on Student Life who originally brought up the issue. She believes that there are a number of students, particularly those who were not on campus when the task force was conducting its investigation, who are unaware of the history of the decision. “This was driven by students and the Committee of Student Life; this was not just decided by the President,” said Hartnett.
According to Crandall, this issue has come up again and again in the past, but it wasn’t until recently that the school went to such lengths to address the concerns. “Since I’ve been here, which has been since 2010, I was told that there were going to be two things that will come on the agenda every year. And that was the ban on the blood drive and smoking issues,” said Crandall.
There has been some discussion in the Student Senate about the new policy as well. Duffield, a senator, suggested a referendum to find an accurate opinion from the students, faculty, and staff about whether they believe the policy will work.
However, regardless of the opposition, members of the Implementation Committee emphasize that the policy has been decided and is not going to change. They are now focusing on getting feedback on how to best educate the community and ease implementation.
“When Karen sent out the email, my name was on it for people who could work with us on the policy. I have opened up my subcommittee meetings for anyone who wants to join,” said Hartnett. “I am reaching out to the community for their input as we go through the transition to the new policy, so that we may hear everybody’s ideas about education, about implementation, about sanctions, and about compliance.”
by Hugh Thornhill '14
Staff Writer and Contributing Layout Editor