Discussing Changes to Augustana’s Substance Use Policy

BY KEN WINDER / Dagligtale Staff Writer

With the legalization of marijuana in Canada as of Oct. 17, 2018, students, the majority of whom are the legal age, are beginning to question the substance use policy of Augustana. North Campus allows students to both consume alcohol and cannabis on campus, albeit with limitations. Augustana, however, has a hard ban on both substances with students being taken to task if found in possession or consumption of them whilst on Augustana grounds.

An interview with Executive Director of Student Life, Randal Nickel, Feb. 8, shed some light on what changes will occur to the policies regarding alcohol and cannabis.

Currently the Augustana campus is not aligned with any of the U of A’s policies regarding alcohol and cannabis use on campus for students. Why is that? When is Augustana’s policies  expected to change to reflect the views of the University of Alberta?

I would say that the reason for that is sort of historical differences here that have carried through when we became part of the U of A. We started last fall, Fall 2018, on doing that consultation about what we, the students, staff, and faculty, would like to see. The recommendations that we’re making align us much more closely with what North Campus has. That plan will be that we will be able to provide our recommendations and things like that in time for room draw this year, which is later in March, so that all students can make an informed decision on whether they want to live on or off campus.

Who are developing these recommendations?

I’m tasked with the review of the policy and the recommendations coming forward and I’ve asked Rob Ford to be really specifically looking at what that’s going to look like in residences. We had a broader committee that included students, staff, and faculty representation that was working before Christmas, in [the] fall, that took the survey data, North Campus policy, Camrose City by-law, and what other universities are doing, and reviewed all of those things and then we came forward with these recommendations that we feel we should align more with the North Campus policies. We are currently preparing some specifics on what that will look like.

When was the survey that you collected data from?

The survey was open for about two months, from September to [the] end of October, and we had about 140 submissions. Basically it asked the same question for three things: what advice or what would you like this working group committee to take into consideration around alcohol policy, cannabis policy, and tobacco policy for the campus? We got a lot of feedback on that that identified a range of things and we learned a lot from it, too, about some of the unintended negative consequences of our current policy.

I think we have heard that before but this gave us the opportunity to again validate that the policy, the way it is now, is having some negative impacts on students. Some of those negative impacts were not feeling able to or free to seek help if necessary. We know that we’ve heard in the consultations that some students, if substances become have a negative impact on their life, won’t come forward necessarily because they’re afraid of the consequences [or] that the focus will be on the breaking of the alcohol policy [and] not the need for help right. We want to eliminate that. We want to have our policies here so that we [can]provide reliable information about both health and safety so students, staff, and faculty will have a trusted place [where] they can look for information on alcohol/cannabis, the impacts, and healthy uses of them, so that there’s no stigma or barrier in place if someone needs help. Those are some of the things that, by reviewing these policies, are the focuses we’re having so that when we make our recommendations [they] would be front center.

When and how is the current alcohol policy expected to change?

We are looking at alcohol and what the current policies are and changing them for residences with the possibility of providing both the opportunity to have alcohol in residence and to have substance free areas. Those are the principles that we’re working on because the feedback that we got highlighted that there are some students that live on campus because alcohol is not allowed. There are other students who don’t live on campus because of the current alcohol policy. We want to balance those needs and make sure that public health, safety, and harm reduction are our key principles. I can’t really give the specifics of what the policy will be yet other than to say, “Yeah, we’re balancing the public health and safety of everybody that lives here and goes to school here.” We’re also changing the access for services and make sure that there’s no barriers and stigma to it.

In regards to the cannabis policy, currently the stance is none. The current U of A policy is no smoking or vaping in any facility, except in designated spots. Will Augustana be similar perhaps?

We’re again using the health and safety aspects by simply aligning it more with responsible usage. There are the medicinal uses of cannabis and we don’t want to put barriers up for that. As for the recreational use, we’re moving forwards in that direction to where I think we’ll align ourselves with what North Campus is doing. We’ve started to look at the campus to say, “Are there areas that could potentially be consumption areas for cannabis?” We’re working on that right now.

Will there be a change to the current tobacco policy where the policy is no smoking in public spaces except five meters away from a door or window.

We’ve been looking at that. We’ve got some feedback asking us to consider whether there should be areas that are tobacco and cannabis smoking and vaping free. We haven’t made any decisions there. But also the recommendation, similar to North Campus, is to find some designated areas or zones where you can smoke.

Do all three policy changes still have to go through Faculty Council?

We’ve presented sort of the principles to the Dean and he’s in agreement with the principles of public health and safety around the harm reduction aspect. I think by including harm reduction, it means that that our current policy needs to change. That’s where we’re focusing on and we do feel it’s important to align ourselves more with North Campus as part of the UofA.

The exact specifics then we’re still working on but want to pass that through Faculty Council, so that they’re aware where we’re moving, and then through students at the Town Hall. Hopefully after that, we’ll be able to announce official things so students can make their decisions for room draw.

At this point, that’s why we don’t want to say it’s going to be this, this and this yet, but the principals are there and are our recommendations; we are developing what is going to specifically look like. I think what we’re doing will have a positive impact on our campus and the students.

Where are you currently in the policy change process?

We’ll be working on specific information on a sort of Town Hall at dinnertime in the cafeteria on Mar. 4. Right now, it looks like information will be announced about programming changes, like the alcohol policy, changes in food services, fees for next year, a few other things that we’re working on for residences, and then opening up for questions and feedback on what we’re working on.

The primary target is those living on campus but we want to find a way as well to welcome if there are students from off campus that want to come to that. We’ll be advertising that coming up soon.

Edited for length and clarity.

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