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Letter: Policing Self-Gov

To The Editor:

We found last week’s letter to the editor (“Police, Interrupted”) from the Students for a Just Society deeply concerning. While we acknowledge that there has, in fact, been a significant increase in police presence on the College campus this year, we take issue with the concerned students’ interpretation of events, and more importantly, their naïve understanding of self-governance.

Throughout this school year, the Grinnell Police Department has been more actively patrolling the areas on and around campus. Additionally, the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement has recently been investigating drug use on campus. It is important to note that their investigation is independent of the activities of the Grinnell Police Department and the two should not be conflated.

We agree that this increased police presence is both unfortunate and disconcerting. However, we have brought it upon ourselves. Whether you agree with the law or not, the consumption and distribution of marijuana is illegal. By choosing to consume marijuana, you are in violation of the law. If you are caught, there are consequences. The consequences for the distribution of marijuana are even more severe. The concerned students’ assertion that “the dorms at Grinnell are not areas subject to high-crime” is blatantly false. There are students dealing marijuana on campus, and the authorities have figured this out and are acting upon it.

The central tenet of self-governance is personal responsibility—that is, to take responsibility for one’s actions. Self-governance does not mean that we govern ourselves; the College campus may be a bubble, but it is not its own sovereign nation. Claiming that “police presence makes it impossible for students to engage in self-governance” is simply wrong. Students are making choices that are contrary to the law—choices that have consequences for those unfortunate few who have been caught by law enforcement officials.
Self-governance is a core value on this campus, but it seems fewer students have an understanding of what it truly means.

—Alex White ’12, Chris Dorman ’12, Wadzi Motsi ’12, Allison Wong ’12, Austin Frerick ’12, Phillip Brogdon ’12, Kathy Andersen ’13, & Raghav Malik ’13

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  • N

    Nick West '08 AlumMay 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Besides the response of H. (igh) S. (chool) kid, who apparently found the article on a facebook link (the nether of the S&B, what will facebook do next!), these are such entertaining and clever dismissals of that cockamamie letter that my faith in the community/current student body has been restored! What a rollercoaster ride the last 10 minutes have been! Down and up again!

    Resist, students! Resist the quick downward slope to where some asshole, desperate to defend his free dorm room, is permitted to write legally ( COLLEGE LAW ) binding TICKETS for having music too loud, smoking a bit, not returning to your dorm by lights-out! hours, or worse.

    Hey, Alex White, are you the SGA President now? Do you think the dean of student affairs, who is probably a total boner these days, is going to write you a letter of recommendation for delivering such a knock-out lesson on the law to your peers?

    Finally, you know, there’s rarely been a situation (to my knowledge) where local staff was unable to ease or eliminate any distress by students caused by violations of dorm policies. What is it that can’t be worked out? If somebody is smoking pot, and for some god-forsaken reason that really bother a student in the dorm, and he or she either directly confronts the offenders OR brings it up with the SA, and if even then it’s not dealt with satisfactorily, and it’s presented to the RLC, and he or she still can’t do anything about it, and the dean of student affairs can’t get the kids to change their behavior despite aggravating the community, then CALL THE COPS, I guess. That’s what self-governance really means. At least procedurally, that’s what it would look like… “but it seems fewer students have an understanding of what it truly means.”

  • D

    Disappointed AlumnMay 8, 2012 at 11:06 am

    What an embarrassing and lazily-conceived letter. I am extremely fearful for the future of this college if this is truly the response of the SGA cabinet. By blindly accepting unjust laws and blaming any violator for the consequences, the sga cabinet shows a deeply troubling conservative, authoritarian approach to self-governemnt. Not only does this letter flippantly and rudely cast aside the valid concerns about the growing encroachment from the criminal (in)justice system, it also arrogantly espouses the “true” interpretation of self-governance while completely trampling the core values of the institution. In a nation where more than 2.3 million people live behind bars and mandatory minimum sentencing laws can see a first time offender face hard prison time for a non-violent drug crime, Grinnell has a responsibility to stand up for justice and take a stand against the ever-growing prison industrial complex. To think that somehow Grinnell students are absolved from the responsibility of standing up to this cruel system is truly naive. Recall the facist SGA! (jk, but come on!)

  • C

    Clay Parks Class of '84 Judicial CouncilMay 5, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Was the letter from the SGA cabinet a joke? It read like someone had a few vague ideas and then went wild with a thesaurus. The writers should have concentrated more on proper grammer and clear writing than on their puerile posturing and condescending attitude. How can anyone who are as young as these self-important blowhards hypocritically call others with differing opinions naive?
    If people throughout the history of the world had taken the lockstep,unthinking, and blindly obediant attitude toward all laws as the SGA cabinet do, the world might still be ruled completely by colonial powers, slavery and Jim Crow laws would still be legal, and dictatorial despotism would flourish. “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”. Or, as in this care, write letters to the editor making a laughingstock of the Student Government. A recall should be considered.
    And I will rest easier at night knowing that some MINE thugs skirting the law and carrrying military grade weapons are patrolling the campus and dorms to staunch the overwhelmingly number of heinous actions (all 13 of them) committed by pot smokers at Grinnell College.
    Students: If you see a police action being taken, or even patrolling of the dorms by gung ho police, you still have the constitutional right of free speech. 20 or 30 students surrounding a couple of non-students and voicing their opinions might chill the intimidating, coercive, and oppressive tactices being used by the Grinnell Police and the MINE

  • A

    Amelia Wallace & Hannah MargoliesMay 4, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Two weeks ago, we wrote a letter regarding increased police activity on campus. Last week, the S&B published a response signed by members of the SGA cabinet which we found to be patronizing and an overall misrepresentation of the concerns we raised in our initial letter. We have written a response to SGA and submitted it to the S&B, but it was not published. As a result, we are posting our most recent letter here, as well as links to the others, in hopes of clarifying our position and raising awareness about the issues we addressed.

    Below is our most recent letter:

    To The Signatories of Policing Self-Gov:

    We found the April 27 response to our letter regarding police activity on campus to be a surprising dismissal of students’ concerns. Rather than taking the time to thoughtfully consider our ideas and requests regarding transparency and communication with the institution, the SGA Cabinet (excepting the President and Concerts Chair) instead precipitously chose to write a sanctimonious and blatantly condescending response that distorted the intention of our letter and ignored the thoughts and concerns of the student body.

    An important function of SGA Cabinet is to act as an intermediary between the students and the administration. We are disappointed by the Cabinet’s abrupt dismissal and misrepresentation of our position. We feel the Cabinet has a duty to consider the very serious issues brought forth by students they represent.

    Rather than addressing our requests, which were to improve communication between students, the College, and the police department; to clarify policies; and to protect self-governance, the Cabinet chose to hone in on drug use on campus. SGA Cabinet’s letter, rather smugly, informed us of the illegality of marijuana consumption and distribution, which is obvious. The point of our letter was not to defend drug use on campus. More disturbingly, they failed to consider at all the many reasons, other than illicit drug use, that students are uncomfortable with the police presence on campus.

    Grinnell prides itself on fostering a safe environment for everyone, including minorities, the LGBTQ community, and other marginalized groups. For many of us, there is a lot of discomfort with the way power and privilege play into police interactions. It should not be difficult to understand that a heavy police presence on the campus makes many people uncomfortable. By addressing only one small element of the concerns stated in our letter, you distorted our position.

    Lastly, the Cabinet misrepresents our “naïve understanding” of self-governance. The Cabinet seems to understand our position to be that self-governance means that we as students are above the law. However, we are fully aware that we are subject to the law. Our letter says the “police presence makes it impossible for students to engage in self-governance” because it inhibits students abilities to mediate problems within the Grinnell community and take care of each other. The SGA Cabinet response took this quote out of context. Our letter was using it to note how police presence would drive illicit activities further underground, which is actually negative for both the police and the well being of the student body.

    As a result of the Cabinet’s patronizing and inadequate response to our letter, we urged them to reread our original letter through a clear, unbiased lens, and reconsider the points and requests we made. We also asked them to consider revising or retracting their response to our original letter and show themselves as true representatives of the student body. Their failure to respond to this request has prompted us to publish this letter and publicly clarify our opinion and the Cabinet’s misrepresentation of it.

    –Hannah Margolies ’14 and Amelia Wallace ‘14

  • E

    East coast alumMay 3, 2012 at 10:32 am

    The Student Government representatives’ servile letter is a disappointment. The issue of law enforcement’s criminal targeting of students for minor offenses has been burning up the Grinnell alumni email list serves and Facebook groups. Many of us are appalled that the college would cooperate with these efforts. That the Student Government cabinet members here melodramatically proclaim that student’s dorms are “high crime” areas and that those being pursued and arrested have brought it on themselves is just as disturbing. My prejudices about student government types are unfortunately confirmed by your letter. This is how you respond to the concerns of fellow students? I guess values of community and supporting your classmates, not to mention common decency, are out of fashion.

  • H

    H. S.Apr 29, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Seeing this posted on FB, I was interested to read the letter. It is very well versed, but could dig in deeper with the personal and social consequences.
    Seems to me that those in favor of self-governance but ignorant of its implications for personal responsibility are gambling with not only their education at a highly-ranked US liberal arts college (which has significant cache on resumes for jobs and grad school) but also their professions. If you get caught at your school dealing (And using depending on the philosophy of your institution), you should be expelled. If you get caught by the police, you will have a police record that may result in a felony charge, one year prison sentence and a fine. A police record does not look good when your future employer (or landlady) conducts a background check on you.
    Their are also severe social, political and economic consequences of marijauna consumption that directly impact local communities here in the US but also in Mexico. America’s addiction (the greatest in the world at the moment) fuels the most insane drug- battles in Mexico which make neighborhoods for average individuals not just unsafe but lethal with gangland violence. Drug dealing also has direct ties to the arms trade and sex slavery. In short, your actions have karma/consequences that are beyond your dorm room impacting transnational and transborder communities.

  • I

    Isaac WilderApr 27, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    An overwrought and overreaching accession to a security apparatus gone out of control. This editorial completely ignores the ways in which Grinnell law enforcement is embedded in a matrix of police violence, drug laws that are designed for systematic oppression, and rape culture.

    For an obvious fallacy, let’s take this: “Self-governance does not mean that we govern ourselves”. Indeed, that is exactly what it means. We govern ourselves in part because we believe that the norms of justice in a thoughtful, liberal, egalitarian community may not be perfectly in line with those of the corporate state.

    This editorial fails to recognize that what is legal and what is just are not necessarily the same. It is a position without moral courage, and it certainly breaks step with the founding principles of our institution.

  • C

    Clint Williamson '13Apr 27, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    Did not know that a cabinet position necessitated a disrespectful and haughty tone as well as a key to some divine “truth” of self-governance. Calling other Grinnellians interpretation of an abstract concept like self-governance “naive” is incredibly condescending. Would you make that comment in class? I would surely hope not. These people are your peers and disagreeing with them is fine. Just do it in a respectful manner (in other words the exact opposite of how you constructed this letter). When you say you have an understanding of what self-governance “truly” means, you alienate not only those Grinnellians who wrote the previous article but also those of us who do not agree with what you posit it to be.

    Finally, I would like to thank Poojith Padmaraj and Gabe Schecter for not signing their names to this article. Good to know that at least two members of cabinet have respect for us lowly individuals who make up the campus body.