Student input and consent needed on administrative decisions

Ben Riggs, Senior

I would like to begin this by displaying my reticence to being critical against the actions of the college concerning the smoking policy decision.  So, I want to begin by addressing the aspects of campus that I love and know others have great affection for as well.  My first visit to Berry came during the fall of my senior year in high school on a multi-college and university trip across the Southeast.  While my trip consisted of visiting thirteen different institutions ranging from small liberal arts colleges to large universities, my experience at Berry stood far above the others.  What I fell in love with the first time I visited campus has remained with me until today and has grown as the past three and a half years have gone by. 

All of this is stated to make clear to the reader, that I adore Berry College.  The love and wisdom of the faculty, the hospitality of the Berry student, and the beauty of the campus are characteristics of this institution that make me proud to call myself a Berry College student.  However, I cannot stand idly by as problems concerning student interest and input continue to manifest.  First, I would like to address the problems with making our campus a “tobacco-free campus.” 

The first argument to be made in favor of this policy centers on the health concern surrounding tobacco use: “Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Surgeon General, however, have urged campuses to take a stronger stand on this national health problem by becoming tobacco free.”  Sure, being children of the 1990’s, there’s not a person on this campus that would argue against the negative health concerns related to tobacco use, however, students and faculty cannot smoke in buildings!  This immediately addresses the health concern of students by eliminating secondhand smoke. There is no empirical evidence that would support simply walking past a smoker would place that student at risk of secondhand smoke.  The health concern seems to be the strongest part of the argument, although, as you can see, it is very weak.

The next argument is that, well, everybody else is doing it, so why shouldn’t we? “There are currently 1,477 smoke-free campuses in the nation, of which 975 are tobacco-free.  The University System of Georgia implemented a tobacco-free policy effective October 1, 2014.”  This is probably the weakest part of the argument.  Berry College should unashamedly stand out as a beacon of difference from the rest of our peers.  This is making us another part of the herd.

Lastly, this policy seeks to set the standard for healthy living across our residential campus. “While we recognize and respect that individuals will make health-related behavioral choices over the course of a lifetime, we must also recognize that addictive habits acquired early in life can be punishing to overcome.”  Okay, let’s be generous here and claim that 1-2% of the campus population smokes.  This is far less than the percentage that partakes in consuming fried foods in either the Dining Hall or Valhalla.  Why are we not restricting fried food consumption, limiting the amount of cookies that can be eaten in the Dining Hall, or remove soft-drinks across campus?  These seem to be much greater health concerns than the very small percentage of students that partake in smoking.  This is assuming, of course, that all who partake in tobacco use are addicted.  What about the large population of students that occasionally smokes a pipe or cigar, seriously, what is wrong with that?

Clearly, this new policy is not as firm as some would have hoped it would be, but it points to an overall growing problem on this campus.  This problem is not observed by students or faculty that hate Berry but comes from members of the community that love and care for our college to flourish.  My friend, John Evans, rightly points out that, “There exists today, conveniently enough in dark and hidden corners, an old Berry College poster which states many of the values and ethics that this college has long held dear in spirit, if not necessarily in written law. The first statement on this poster is as such: “This college exists for the students. Without the students, there is no need for this institution.” Yet clearly, there have been several instances in the past few years where the administration of Berry made it clear that they did not want student input on administrative decisions.”

Ultimately, the use of student input and interest only at times that seem advantageous to the college administration must stop.  The lack of student voice on college policy topics is strikingly profound and scary considering the aforementioned mission of the college.  Hopefully, this will serve as a learning opportunity for our college administrators, the students and faculty will no longer put up with decisions made without our consent.

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