Panel clarifies misconceptions about Northwestern’s drug policy


Sophie Mann/The Daily Northwestern

University Police sergeant Steve Stoeckl, Evanston police officer Scott Sengenberger and student conduct and conflict resolution director Tara Sullivan discuss drug policy and police jurisdiction. Students for Sensible Drug Policy hosted the panel to educate students on their rights with law enforcement and to clarify misconceptions.

Emily Chin, Assistant Campus Editor

Students for Sensible Drug Policy held a panel Thursday to clarify misconceptions around Northwestern drug policies.

Tara Sullivan, director of student conduct and conflict resolution, joined University and Evanston police officers at the event.

Weinberg junior Caroline Naughton, co-president of SSDP, led the discussion. She explained that one of SSDP’s main objectives is a “know your rights” component. She asked panelists Sullivan, UP Sgt. Steve Stoeckl and EPD Officer Scott Sengenberger questions based on experiences students in SSDP have had with law enforcement.

“We think it’s powerful for students to be able to spread this education to their peers,” she told The Daily. “If we clarify some of the misconceptions, this will foster a healthier relationship and make law enforcement jobs easier. It’s a two-way street.”

More than 20 students attended the panel, Naughton said.

Panelists discussed the University’s Responsible Action Protocol, which calls on students who are present in dangerous, drug-related situations to call 911, stay with the person needing emergency treatment and cooperate with University officials.

“That you’re doing what you’re able to do to help the situation then you’re not held responsible for violations of our alcohol or other drug policies,” Sullivan said at the panel.

Sullivan said the biggest misconception is the idea that University officials don’t use the protocol regularly, when in reality they use it all the time, she said. She also clarified that Evanston police aren’t required to follow the protocol.

“That wouldn’t help you in a determination of guilt or innocence,” Sengenberger said at the panel. “What that helps you with is a determination of responsibility, whether it’s a sentencing or a fine or something along those lines.”

Another issue brought up during the panel was the amount of privacy students have in residence halls and off-campus housing. According to the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the government cannot search an individual without a search warrant. This includes the police but not the University, which is a private entity, Sengenberger said.

The University housing contract gives resident assistants and Residential Life staff jurisdiction to enter and search a room, Sullivan said.

“There’s a lot of rumors, there’s a lot of things that are done in practice,” she said. “So in practice the RAs may choose not to open that closet. In our policies they can.”

Naughton said the most interesting point brought up in the panel was the amount of cooperation students often have with law enforcement officials. Students often don’t want to answer to the police, Sengenberger said. However, that will have worse ramifications for them in the long run.

“There is a misconception that consent is the same as physical permission,” he said. “So if a police officer says, ‘Let me in’ and you don’t let him in, then you actually could be violating the law at that time, you just don’t know.”

Naughton said that although the panelists answered the questions, she was sometimes frustrated. There were limits to what the panelists could say because they represented the view of their employers, rather than their own opinions, she said.

However, she said the event went well overall and she was pleased with the dynamic between the speakers and what they had to say.

SSDP will now work with the administration to make sure the policies discussed in the panel are transparent and to make sure students know their rights, she said.

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