SJC letter of explanation of revised university DUI policy

Paqui Toscano and Sam Gibson

Our conduct system rests on the shoulders of students: we, as the student body, are afforded the significant responsibility of administering, contributing to, and upholding our conception of honorable behavior on Washington and Lee’s campus. When positive change is effected, it is generally the result of discussion, contemplation, and a willingness to forge both a safer and more responsible University environment for coming generations, as has been the case with the many actors involved concerning the issue of DUIs within our campus community.

On November 2, 2016, the faculty approved changes to the DUI policy which were first proposed by the Student Judicial Council and subsequently discussed and approved by the Student Affairs Committee. These changes hinge on a differentiation which the Student Handbook articulates between DUI cases in which the offending student is found to have a BAC of below .15 and those in which the student blows a .15 or higher.

Under the previous policy, students convicted of a DUI with a BAC of .15 or higher were automatically suspended from the University without adjudication by the SJC. In contrast, the cases of students convicted of a DUI who blew below a .15 were heard by the Council with available sanctions ranging from community service to dismissal from the University. From this delineation, emerged a disparity in how these two classes of DUIs could be treated that we have now sought to rectify: under the current policy, the SJC will adjudicate the cases of students whose BACs were at or exceeded .15 with suspension for one term as the go-to minimum sanction and dismissal now on the table. This closes the loophole of students with BACs at or above a .15 receiving merely an automatic, one-term suspension while those students with BACs below point .15 could be dismissed from the University.

The process of revising University policy commenced following various discussions with students last year who expressed a desire to more effectively confront the gravity of drunk driving on this campus. The Student Judicial Council unequivocally emphasizes that we must cultivate a zero-tolerance atmosphere towards driving while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs by availing ourselves of a set of sanctions that appropriately addresses the incredibly dangerous nature of this offense. In our view, this significant policy change will help combat what remains one of the most devastating problems facing our campus community today, even after many of us have seen or experienced its deleterious effects first hand. Such is our effort to ensure the University community sees that DUIs are unacceptable. Period.

And yet, although we have crafted an amendment to the Student Handbook to address the offensiveness of a particularly unacceptable conduct violation, this change is not the end of a conversation, but rather the start of one. As fellow members of the Washington and Lee University community, we exhort you to hold each other accountable, to empower each other to realize that high-risk decisions beget high-stakes consequences. We implore you to be part of the solution—to stand united against a crime that wreaks tragic consequences which last a lifetime even when the decision to drive under the influence is often made in only a few seconds. After all, policy deterrents can only go so far to combat what, in part, proves to be a systemic issue. The student who decides to drive drunk does not act in a vacuum; he or she, in fact, is a party to an environment which more readily enables poor judgement.

And so it is time to make good on the strength of the W&L community which is frequently touted as one of hallmark virtues of this institution—and rightly so. To this end, we are not Student Judicial Council justices, fraternity or sorority members, independents, underclassman or upperclassman alone but, foremost, W&L Generals who now must work together to grapple with this issue not only on the Hill, as we discuss this much-improved policy, but also off the Hill, as we live what will hopefully be the immensely memorable years of our college experience.

In the spirit of transparency, the Student Judicial Council hopes to be a resource for students who have additional questions about this policy change. The two of us will be available Tuesday and Thursday from 3:00-5:00 p.m. (and by appointment on other days) in the SJC Office, room 344 on the third floor of Elrod Commons. Please don’t hesitate to stop by!
Paqui Toscano, Chair
Sam Gibson, Secretary