The Ring-tum Phi responds to the SJC’s drunk driving stance

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Drunk driving has been an unfortunate topic of discussion at Washington and Lee. It weighs heavily on the community as students take Traveller to get home safely, fraternities designate sober drivers at mixers and parties and as the Promise Committee continues to coordinate efforts to prevent future accidents.

Many of us on The Ring-tum Phi signed a statement a few weeks ago, saying that we believe that drunk driving is a violation of our trust. Last week, members of the Student Judicial Council sent us a letter explaining their stance on drunk driving. They emailed this message to the student body on April 1.

The SJC deals with acts of student misconduct that are not considered Honor Violations, according to the email. The members who sent this message said that they believe DUIs should continue to be handled through the SJC. They cite sanction flexibility, the commitment to individual improvement and the fact that “there is no one kind of DUI” as reasons that these cases should continue to be handled by the SJC.

“We have heard cases of students with BACs ranging from .04 to .14,” they told students. “There are times when the student knows he is intoxicated and makes the decision to drive or instances when he has taken all proactive steps to lower her BAC but unknowingly still drove with an illegally high BAC.”

To an extent, we agree. It may be beneficial for the SJC to weigh the circumstances of a DUI case before imposing a sanction, particularly if the BAC is hovering near the legal limit.

But we find the rest of the message troubling. Point three of the email says, “The Student Handbook, under advisement by the Board of Trustees, has a provision in which students who have been arrested while driving with a BAC of .15 or higher are automatically suspended for at least one academic term.”

We want to repeat this statement: “Suspended for at least one academic term.” This is the sanction imposed on a student driving with a BAC almost twice the legal limit, while our other student governing body, the Executive Committee, deals with a single sanction – expulsion.

The Honor System was implemented to allow current generations of W&L students to determine the types of acts that breach their trust. Looking back at recent events, as well as all of the efforts to prevent drunk driving in the future, we can think of few actions that violate the current community’s trust more than intoxicated driving.

The SJC claims that “students have recovered from past DUI experiences to remain incredibly productive members of our community.” It is admirable that this judicial body encourages students to grow and learn from their mistakes. People can make poor decisions and move on to live respectable and productive lives.

But couldn’t you say the same thing about students who are charged with any violation that the SJC doesn’t currently handle?

Students come to Washington and Lee knowing that they have entered a community of trust​. They sign the White Book with the understanding that violating this trust comes with expulsion. This system affords us the opportunity to schedule our own exams and feel safe leaving our laptops in the library to get snacks at the Co-op. The community trusts that people aren’t going to steal their personal property or cheat on their exams.

Shouldn’t we also trust each other to be sober when we operate vehicles that could seriously injure or kill someone?

Maybe this requires a more coordinated effort between the SJC and the EC when these cases are prosecuted. But we think the effort is well worth the benefits to ensure the community’s safety and trust.