Yale University is the home of the secret society. There’s Scroll and Key; there’s Skull and Bones (George Bush’s alma mater within an alma mater). And then there’s B and K: the Society of Benevolence and Knowledge (as it’s known to parents), or Bong and Keg (as it’s known to everyone else). B and K holds once-a-week parties where water pipes and beer are passed around to anyone who shows up as well as a once-a-year psychedelic-mushroom bash for members only. There may once have been something dicey about belonging to B and K (“We’re in one of those secret societies — and all we do is smoke pot!”), but in the campus environment of 1995, bongs and kegs have become a bit of an anachronism. “D Party,” says senior Michael Dworkin, an A student, “has replaced that now.”
We’re sitting in Michael’s off-campus apartment with six D Party regulars. [Editor’s Note: The names and some descriptions of students in this story have been changed.] It’s a polite, mixed group — like a Hollywood integrated-squadron movie: There’s the straight-looking computer techie, the Asian woman who’s nervous about a paper, the kid with working-class roots in Massachusetts. The students refer to themselves ironically — but also with a touching element of hope — as “the future leaders of America.” They pack a bong while explaining D Party protocol.
“It’s D for dope,” Michael says, “which is heroin.” The parties, which started up last year, take place every two weeks in a different off-campus rental; attendance runs between 40 and 60 students. What has helped make this possible is the improved quality of street heroin, which is now so pure that needle-shy students can snort or smoke it. “I’d say only about a quarter of the users are shooting up at Yale University,” Michael says calmly. “Most people here are snorting dope. There’s a very safe-sex-style safe-drug-use aesthetic. At these parties, for example, if anyone’s caught sharing needles, they’re kicked out, and they’re not allowed back in.”
“People here are really conscientious about dope,” the techie says. “Like they won’t do it in unfamiliar surroundings or if they have a paper to finish.” The bong travels around the room along with a blue-and-white Yale lighter. “Weed isn’t even trying anymore,” Marla, the woman, says. “That’s, like, standard, the base line. It’s the modern beer: You can’t even get away from it.”
These students grew up with the most intensive drug-education program in history, from Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign — the policy that launched a thousand stand-up routines — to that egg that made out so poorly once it was dropped into that pan. “You constantly hear of all the dangers,” Michael says. “But as you kind of approach the danger and try it, and nothing happens to you, I think most students become braver and go on and keep on experimenting. There’s almost a joy you get out of disproving those things.”
“And once you know two or three people who’ve done it,” Marla adds, “then soon you’re doing it, too. It’s not peer pressure, exactly — it’s peer presence.” The students agree that the newer classes at Yale are pursuing hard drugs even earlier and more enthusiastically than they did. “The younger set,” Marla says, “the freshmen and sophomores, are the pioneers in drug use.”
“It’s just everybody,” the Massachusetts kid says as the bong goes to him. “The trust-fund hippies, the jock scene. It’s just like everyone found the medicine man, and they’re loving it.”
After more than a decade of declining use at American colleges, drugs have re-enrolled, and that medicine man has become pretty easy to find. I visited six schools for this story — in the West, the East and right in the middle — and it never took more than two hours to locate students who were willing to sell me, more or less, whatever I was looking for. At Berkeley, I met a selfless fraternity dealer who never sold for profit (“I want more people to smoke pot”). At the University of California, Santa Cruz (students call it Uncle Charley’s Summer Camp), I logged my best time: The first person I bumped into — in a rainy campus parking lot — turned out to have a thriving mailorder mushroom business, the proceeds of which he spent on textbooks. At the University of Michigan, I spent the evening with a successful grass and acid dealer who told me how important caution was to his business, took me on a buy, then gave me excellent directions back to my hotel. I had just finished parking my car when I realized I had never told the guy what hotel I was staying in or even that I was in a hotel at all.
I spent time with deans and health administrators who carefully assured me their colleges were no different than any others and then, once this disclaimer was out of the way, explained how much what they called the drug problem had grown during the last three years. I learned about the 1989 amendments to the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, federal regulations that have left student users more dangerously isolated than they’ve been since the ’60s. As I talked to students and administrators, everything connected with drug education and enforcement began to seem like a demonstration of the law of unintended consequences. The theory behind the drug-free regulations was that there were too many mixed messages coming from the colleges and that everyone would do better to speak with a single, federally approved voice. In practice this has forced colleges to stick with the failed drug-prohibition approach — all drugs are the same, and all are equally bad — and pre-empted many new strategies that might have given students a credible source of drug information. I learned that campus administrators were as afraid of this law as students were of the campus police.
Crime statistics were the first sign of the drug comeback. Between 1992 and 1993, college drug arrests increased by 34 percent. Nationally the number of college students who’ve tried any drug stands at almost 50 percent; nearly a third have smoked pot in the last year, 14 percent in the last month — and daily use of marijuana is at its highest point since 1989. Cocaine use, by contrast, is sharply down — the 1986 overdose of University of Maryland basketballer Len Bias dealt student use a blow from which it never recovered, and even those students who have forgotten his death still associate the drug with the much loathed ’80s. It’s LSD that has been the fastest gainer on the drug board. Since 1985, annual use has more than doubled, and the proportion of students taking off with their own internal Eurail passes now stands at 1 in 10. These figures vary from school to school. At a place like Georgetown, student surveys put the amount of seniors who have tried drugs at ’73 percent, with 28 percent having tried LSD; nine percent of all classes have tried heroin. As many students lamented, it has become hazardously easy to forget the stuff is technically illegal. “A friend of mine got so used to things being accepted here,” one student tells me, “that she went traveling through Europe and India, carrying joints in her pocket, and never thought twice about it until she was arrested.”
You could argue about reasons for the drug comeback, but you couldn’t do it with Dr. Lloyd Johnston. He rarely allows himself a speculative statement, and when he does, he defuses it with hedge words like virtually and not necessarily. The principal author of the University of Michigan’s annual drug-use study, Monitoring the Future, he trusts in numbers. As Johnston and I go over his charts, I begin to feel that the federal government — which funds his research — is somehow in the office with us, sitting at one of the chairs like a concerned third party. When I ask Johnston if he has ever experimented with drugs himself, he is silent until I repeat the question, and then he declines to answer it. I come to understand the motive for his caution. The 1989 drug-free regulations essentially made it illegal for university employees to spare a kind word for any drug. The atmosphere has become so charged that when one medical-school pharmacologist wrote a chapter for the Merck manual suggesting that marijuana “could be used without evidence of social or psychic dysfunction” and that its prohibition “rests on a moral and political and not a [scientific] foundation,” he set off a firestorm; the professor was accused of everything from using drugs himself to being a shill for the legalization movement.
For Johnston, the increase in college drug use has a powerful explanation: high school. Along with CD collections and beer posters, students bring their high school drug behaviors to college with them, and in secondary schools the expansion in drug use has been even more dramatic. From 1991 to 1994, annual marijuana use doubled among eighth-graders and increased by more than 50 percent among 10th-graders; daily use by seniors increased by 80 percent. The number of high school seniors who feel that trying pot is “risky” is down by one-quarter; the same figure for LSD is down by one-sixth; and the numbers of seniors who feel that it would be “easy” to get acid or heroin are at or near their highest point in the 20-year history of Johnston’s study. The graphs Johnston shows me are a ski jump: a long, steep decline from 1979 through 1991, with the following three years sharply rising.
Johnston links these increases, loyally, with success. The government, he feels, did its drugs-are-dangerous job too well. In his universe the concepts “vicarious learning” and “generational forgetting” wage an endless, unresolvable squabble. “By the late ’70s,” Johnston says, “many young people were daily users themselves. Everybody knew one, and they got to observe — and vicariously learn — whether there were consequences to it and whether they wanted to be like somebody who was stoned all day. But the ironic twist to this — what I call generational forgetting — was that by the ’80s, there were fewer users in the student environment. The kids growing up today weren’t around to have that learning experience. So that makes them more vulnerable to act on their natural curiosity. I mean, most drugs are around, and students can get them.”
I ask Johnston if he feels that current college drug policies are working, and I mention that education strategies seem frozen in the “Just Say No” approach. Johnston carefully conceals his response as a criticism of past policies. “When we get back to the old scare tactics,” he says, “the problem is, they weren’t credible. A lot of government stuff in the late ’60s and ’70s was really propaganda. And kids in those days — who knew more about drugs than adults did — recognized it as propaganda. So they didn’t believe it. And what happened was they just turned off the message.” Johnston sighs. “Even the valid messages. They turn off the radio.”
Every fall,” says Cindy, a pretty junior in a Berkeley sorority house, “my friend Eileen and I, we’ll joke around, and we’ll be like ‘OK, what new kind of drug are we going to try this year?'” I’m sitting with Cindy and Eileen in the common room of their sorority. The house has a plastic, false-colonial graciousness like an ambitious Holiday Inn. Cindy and Eileen lift their pinkies while drinking study-break tea and repeatedly apologize to me for their house’s no-smoking rule.
“You just want to take another step up every year,” Cindy says. “With something new that sounds fun.” The pattern they describe runs like a sly variation on the standard college curriculum. First year is for mastering elementary substances like alcohol and pot. (“You have to learn these huge pot-etiquette rules,” Eileen says. “Like if you’re packing the bong, you should make sure everyone has had enough, but if you haven’t had enough, you can’t say anything because it’s not your pot. It’s worse than all the high school etiquette classes I ever had to take. It’s so much harder than a tea party.”) Second year introduces students to softer, friendlier hallucinogens like mushrooms. Third year is for amphetamines and acid. And the last year, for those interested in graduate-level courses, belongs to heroin. “I always watch for a couple of weeks after people try something new to make sure everything’s OK,” Cindy says. “Then if it looks like fun, I’d like to try it.” Her own drug transcript includes “pot, crystal meth and ‘shrooms, opium and cocaine.” “I’m looking forward to trying acid after finals,” she says. “There’s gotta be some reason why all those people are doing it.”
Johnston’s radio is being turned off all over campus. Contrary to the image of the solitary user alone in his room, students have integrated drugs with the rest of their college lives. At Stanford University, one student group advertises a popular trip in the Stanford Daily, on which interested students can trip on acid while canoeing. At Santa Cruz — a woodsy, pine-smelling campus that resembles the forest island in the computer game Myst — mushrooming students go for long hikes along the nature trails, claiming to see elves (which probably don’t exist on university grounds) and a resident mountain lion (which does). Often they end up in the campus’s underground tunnels, where they study and post graffiti for one another (“They’re meant for you to be looking at when you’re on something,” one student tells me. “It’s a big date thing”).
Michigan has its annual campus Hash Bash, which has evolved into a police meet and greet, with officers gliding through the 5,000-person crowd and every few minutes hauling some unlucky smoker away like sharks circling a crew of capsized sailors. One Berkeley frat is rumored to have replaced traditional hazing with taking pledges through a gamut of psychoactive substances. At Yale, the nighttime rooftops become crowded open-air observatories where tripping students take in unbeatable views of the city of New Haven, Conn. At Georgetown, smokers head out for the secluded nearby park they’ve renamed Field of Dreams. (One Santa Cruz student, worried the campus police will close down her favorite spots, decides to misdirect me: “The library,” she says. “All the druggies hang out in the library! They all go to the science library.”)
Left to their own devices, students have developed a strange mix of real pharmacological sophistication — they know which drugs affect which neurons and which fruits, juices and breads will kill or prolong which highs — and drug misinformation: Mushrooms are easier on the body because they’re “natural” (in fact, they’re often sprinkled with various forms of dealers’ “fairy dust”); marijuana affects only long-term memory (it’s short-term memory that it hurts, which makes it just the drug to avoid if you’re sitting down to study).
Drugs have taken over some of the social functions of alcohol, another example of the unintended consequences of the tougher stances on substance abuse — specifically, the raising of the drinking age. Many students told me how much easier it is to buy marijuana than alcohol: No need for a fake ID or a drive to the store; the dealers are right in their halls. “It’s more legal than alcohol for people under 21,” one Berkeley student tells me. “It’s not regulated. It’s less expensive than going out and drinking. And you don’t get a hangover when you’re high.”
Anita Diaz, director of health services at Santa Cruz, sees larger reasons for the rise in drug use. “I think maybe there is an escapism to it,” she says. “If things are difficult, and you’re in a lot of pain, this may be a way to alleviate that pain.” A bunch of fraternity guys at Michigan, sitting under a Bob Marley tapestry that the stereo keeps stirring, tells me a different reason. “Drugs open up your perception,” says one. “They help you question things. You start hoping that there is something beyond what this life can do.” Many students connected their own use with drug information they were given in high school. “They tell you all your life not to do any drugs at all,” one Yale student says. “Then you try pot, and because you find out they lied to you about that, you feel free to try all the other things. You think that what they were saying wasn’t true about any drug so none of them are going to be a big deal.”
While trying to meet with a dean at Michigan, I get lost and end up wandering into the counseling office. I see the racks of student brochures: “Perfectionism,” “Permanent Weight Control,” “Loneliness,” “Test Anxiety,” “Time Management,” “Adult Children of Alcoholics,” “Coming Out,” “Committed Relationships in School,” “Stress Management,” “Addictive Relationships,” “Eating Disorders,” “Understanding Depression,” “Grief and Loss,” “AIDS: What Every Student Should Know,” “Overcoming Procrastination,” “Your Parents’ Divorce,” “Suicide Prevention” and “Self-Confidence.” I decide I don’t have to spend much more time wondering why student drug use is increasing.
According to Cara Vaughn, the public-information manager at Berkeley’s health service, many student users appear to believe undergraduate status offers a kind of magical protection to which the unenrolled have no access. “We have students here,” she says, “who snort heroin. They are middle-class, they are white, and they think they will not get hooked because of their class and the color of their skin.” Vaughn lets out an impatient snort of laughter. “Excuse me: Did you not take honors biology? Do you think your biology is different from other people’s, so you’re not going to get addicted to drugs? Well, at the other end they find out they’re just as hooked as the folks they see on the street.”
Chris Antrim is a strikingly handsome senior with delicate features. We sit in the common room of his Berkeley co-op and smoke, although the house managers keep knocking on the door and asking us to cut it out. Chris comes from a small town where he graduated fourth in his high school class, and he had never used drugs before college. “But once I got here,” he says, “I pretty much gave myself carte blanche.” By sophomore year, he was bored with the drugs he was using — pot, acid, mushrooms and hashish. During the spring term, Chris discovered his new girlfriend already had some experience with needle drugs. “I was fascinated, and I just kind of put myself into her tutelage. The first thing we started shooting together was ecstasy.” Chris found out that if he withdrew from classes by the end of the fifth week, the university would refund his student loan to him as cash. He began spending this money on ecstasy until the expense became troubling. “I just kinda said, ‘You know, heroin’s a lot cheaper.'”
He lights another cigarette. “With heroin,” he says, “it was like I’d arrived, I’ve done heroin. It was the ultimate — breaking the taboos of needle use and all the stigmas that are involved. It felt more hard core, and more like we weren’t just two college kids fucking around with getting high. Heroin was like a lifestyle and a commitment to living a certain way together.”
Chris and his girlfriend shot heroin together for a year and a half. “We broke up basically because she got flipped out by how much I was doing,” Chris says, using his cigarette to light a new one. After the breakup he lost his focus entirely. “I was getting very much into junkie behavior,” he says, “but maybe not complete junkie behavior. Amazingly, I got straight A’s throughout that time. I guess by that point, I hadn’t hit bottom.”
That bottom began to show itself. “I’ve got these great notebooks,” Chris says. “I’d be taking notes, and they would just kind of trail off into straight lines. Fifteen minutes later I’d be back like a windup toy.” He stopped going to school. He dropped from 160 to 119 pounds. He sold off 400 CDs “and put it straight into my arm.” He entered a campus treatment program, flunked it, met another student addict and began buying and using with him. On special occasions they would smoke rocks of crack, which were extremely expensive. “That was really where it started to become unmanageable,” Chris says. “Coke just gives you the mores: That was cool — I want more.” Throughout these months, he continued to support his drug habit with the help of the student-loan program.
Last December he decided to quit everything and get his degree. It has been a struggle. “I lost three years, and every day I still jones for the stuff. I would say, just looking back on it, that if I could have given myself any advice, it would have been to be cautious: You can do irreparable harm to your mind and body and cut years off your life that you might care about later and stuff like that. I wish I’d been really more sure about what I was doing. Because you might wake up and find yourself regretting those choices. Yeah, there’s days when I just go, ‘Damn!’ ” He snaps his fingers. I ask when Chris last did heroin. He rolls up his sleeve to show me and laughs shyly. “Last. . .night,” he says.
Twenty years ago, it was alcohol, sometimes pot,” says Susan Robbins, a professor of graduate social work at the University of Houston who also teaches pharmacology. “Now it’s pot and LSD and mushrooms. What’s changed most are the distribution patterns: 20 years ago, people who sold pot sold that exclusively. Now it’s more like a mall — you sell one, you sell everything. I think that’s made a very big difference in student use. You have immediate access to all those other drugs.”
“Most of the college dealers in my experience are not sophisticated,” says Berkeley police captain Pat Carroll. “They’re dealing to their friends or their buddies or just doing it to supply their floor. If there’s a tremendous amount of it going on, I would be very surprised, and I don’t have my head in the sand. We do undercover drug stings, buy busts, but when we do them, the people we’re catching are not students.”
Despite what Carroll says, student dealers have built up enormously sophisticated networks in the past few years, networks that reduce paper trails, separate students from their sources and keep dealers from knowing their connections. Students have become better dealers by learning police procedure; the TV show Cops has a devoted drug-community following.
Phil, a junior at Santa Cruz, buys mushrooms in bulk from local dealers and distributes them through friends at East Coast colleges. “Before we started, we really got up to speed on all the variables involved,” Phil tells me. He and his partners first studied the relevant laws so they would know exactly which ones they were violating. After investigating various carrier systems, they concluded that the U.S. Postal Service X-rays fewer packages than Federal Express. (Fed Ex, I learned by telephone, will inspect parcels after all of the following circumstances occur: when a bill is paid in cash and not by check; when the parcel is addressed to a building like a fraternity house but not a specific person; and when there is no return address.) Phil sprinkles his boxes with scent killers like coffee and detergent and posts them only during peak holiday seasons when they can blend in among mailbags full of more innocent packages. The successful drug deliveries are, in a sense, a triumph of applied research. “A friend of mine dealt for quite some time,” Phil says, “and she keeps a sign on her door that says ‘Paranoia is Just a Heightened Sense of Awareness.'” Like many student dealers, Phil sends his profits — about $700 a shipment — right back into the university. “I only do it when I’m halfway through the quarter and I’ve run out of my loan check,” he says. “Asking my parents for more money is what I’m trying to avoid the most.”
At the other end of the spectrum from Phil are dorm dealers like Steve Fredericks, a Berkeley freshman with clients throughout the Greek system. “I buy from students strictly,” he says. “I just don’t want to deal with the element — weird people, criminals — that the other guys have to associate with.”
In another unforeseen consequence of stricter drug laws, those suppliers have changed. Some college drug use does indeed originate in high school but not in the way Johnston thinks. “Both of the guys I get it from go through the same connection at Berkeley High,” Steve says. High school students, he explains, believe they can hold large quantities of drugs without fear of the stiff mandatory sentences adult dealers now face. “I mean, if you’re 15 or 16 years old, they’ll slap you on the wrist, say, ‘Don’t do it again,’ or maybe send you to a different school. Big deal.”
Kevin Wallace, a Michigan senior, buys marijuana from students at Ann Arbor’s Pioneer High as well as from local growers. He minimizes his risk by selling only to fellow dealers. The $500 he makes each week goes straight into tuition. When he sells LSD — Kevin calls acid “silly money” — he can earn $1,000 a week. The LSD is shipped from a California university town, taped between two Polaroid photos to foil the X-rays. Kevin has never seen his suppliers’ faces and doesn’t even know their names. By buying books of 1,000 hits, he ends up paying about 20 cents a tab for acid that will retail in the dorms for between $3 and $5. He is always on the lookout for new clients, but he’s cautious. “I’ve seen enough TV stings not to sell to dealers I don’t approach beforehand. I’ll case them out, drop by their house unexpected or late. When I’m comfortable, I’ll walk up and say, ‘Hey, you need to make some extra cash? Here’s how to do it.'”
If Kevin were at Berkeley, his next connection would be someone very much like Darrin Cullin. Darrin, an engineering major, sells to both campus dealers and campus users. In another world, Darrin’s operation would be the sort of thing he could arrange business-school credit for. He keeps his acid upstairs, wrapped in an electrostatic bag. There’s a bottle of ecstasy gel caps in the freezer hidden behind some Fudgsicles. Darrin keeps a pager by the phone and looks up every number in his Rolodex before returning a call. He records each transaction in a professional-looking ledger.
When his LSD arrives, Darrin takes out his drafting kit and his camping scissors and snips the sheets into tabs. When he wants to sell on campus, he buys a roll of Starburst candies, unwraps it and places one hit on top of each fruit chew; this helps him make transactions in the open. The only thing Darrin won’t sell is cocaine. “The way I see it,” he says, “as long as I sell pot, acid and mushrooms, I’m a dealer. The minute I sell cocaine, I become a pusher. Karmically, it’s a much more evil drug. And as far as violent crime associated with acid — no way! Tripping people are not going to be firing guns and doing drive-by shootings. Ecstasy? No way! It’s the love drug.”
Through dealers like Darrin, the drugs finally arrive in the dorms. Some dorm dealers (like Steve Fredericks) sell for no profit at all. They buy four bags of marijuana, sell three at a slight markup and keep what amounts to a free bag for themselves. The students who finally use these drugs have never heard of Darrin or Kevin Wallace or the people they buy from. At some universities, students are trying to cut out these middlemen. University of Michigan students were arrested in 1991 for manufacturing cat, a kind of homemade speed. At Cloyne Court, a Berkeley co-op, students are rumored to have grown four to six pounds of pot per year in their basement. And on weekends you’ll find Yale students on the Metro-North trains commuting to New York with empty shoulder bags. “The train is the best, safest way to go if you’re carrying a lot of drugs,” one student says. Connections are everywhere you look. Cindy and Eileen can buy nearly anything they want — from pot to ecstasy — through a former sorority employee, a student in the Berkeley fraternity system.
Berkeley’s Cara Vaughn is an intelligent, emphatic woman in her 40s. When she wants to make an important point, she slaps the top of her desk, giving her words a kind of physical italics. “I don’t know when people are going to learn that punishment is not a deterrent. We give people lethal injection, and that doesn’t deter them from committing crimes. And you want a drug bust to stop a 19-year-old from using something in the privacy of his off-campus room? It’s not working in society, it’s never worked, and I don’t think it’s going to work here.”
The modern era of campus drug enforcement began at the University of Virginia in 1991. The DEA and the police spent six months investigating the Greek system under the code name Operation Equinox. On March 21 — the day of a Grateful Dead show, when many students were out of their rooms — officers moved in, raiding three fraternity houses. What the agents found was a few tabs of LSD and some sandwich bags of marijuana. What the agents did was to arrest 11 students and give them the standard criminal option: Tell us some other names, or you’re going to jail. One student spent four months under house arrest. Another student — who had been cajoled by two agents into selling them two hits of LSD — spent 11 months in a minimum-security penitentiary. The raid sent a clear message throughout the academic community. Campus drug enforcement would no longer be a matter of cosmetics, or, rather, those cosmetic efforts would now involve some real costs to students.
A Virginia-style raid had become inevitable in 1989 when President Bush signed the new amendments to the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act into law. Until that year, universities had been more or less free to set their own pace with regard to student drug use; they could tailor their own combination of enforcement and education to suit their particular needs. No longer. Each institute of higher education, the law read, would have to “certify that it has adopted and implemented a program to prevent the unlawful possession, use or distribution of illicit drugs. . .by students.” University drug-education programs would have to include “a statement to students that the use of illicit drugs. . .is wrong and harmful.” University administrators would have to issue clear statements that student users were subject to “sanctions up to and including expulsion. . .and referral for prosecution.” The Department of Education, which would administer the new law, had a very strong weapon at its disposal. Any university found to be in violation of the law’s guidelines would cease to receive federal aid — such schools would no longer be eligible for government grants, contracts or federal student loans. A school like Michigan, one dean tells me, stands to lose more than $10 million annually if it is not in compliance. The law, as another administrator says, sent colleges “scrambling.”
Strict new codes of conduct were drafted. At Berkeley, student drug-code violations rose from zero in 1989 to 14 in 1994. The University of Michigan wrote the first student conduct code in its 176-year history. The university also established an independent campus-police force and changed its marijuana-prosecution laws. Until 1990, smoking a joint on the Ann Arbor campus resulted in a $25 fine. By 1995, campus smokers were subject to up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Campus controlled-substance arrests promptly rose from 20 in 1989 to 181 in 1994. Police departments across the country now conduct mini-Operation Equinoxes with a kind of predictable rhythm — this year, in the same week, Boston College (heroin) and Boston University (pot and cocaine) proved they were willing to make their students subject to “expulsion” or “referral to prosecution.” Every year one or two students on many campuses will end up in police custody, sacrifices to keep the government funds flowing for everyone else. One afternoon in April, Valerie French, an intelligent Berkeley undergrad who tells me she doesn’t deal, stopped home between classes for lunch. There was a knock on her door. Seven local policemen burst into her apartment, unnecessarily announcing, “This is the police.” The officers handcuffed Valerie, led her around to the side of the house and asked, “Are you going to help us out with any information, or are we going to read you your rights?” Valerie recalls neighbors leaning out of windows, shouting, “Take her away!”
The police found some marijuana, acid and mushrooms in her bedroom, and she was charged with four felony counts. One week after the bust, Valerie leads me to her apartment. The place looks — well, like an apartment in the movies after a police raid. Kitchen drawers are still upended on the floor, and knives and forks wait scrambled on the table to be sorted back into their holders. Clothes the officers pulled from her closets are still tangled on the carpet. Valerie describes how it felt to make the one phone call every student user dreads: “The first thing I said to him was, ‘Dad, I’m really sorry, but I’m calling you from jail.'” Valerie was given a blanket and a towel and walked to her cell. The police kept the cell TV continually tuned to cop dramas. Valerie’s parents posted her bail with a trust fund that was supposed to go toward a year of postgraduate travel.
Tomorrow, Valerie will have a busy schedule. In the morning there’s Spanish class. In the afternoon she’ll make a court appearance to enter her plea. In the evening she’ll drive with her parents to a relative’s house for Passover supper. Valerie must now decide between giving up some friends or imagining herself after a few years in prison. “Coming to grips with this is really hard,” she says. “I can agree that in the big picture there are a lot of drug situations that need to be stepped in on. I can understand being upset about those drugs. But the worst thing you’re going to do when you’re stoned is just eat a bag of Doritos. It’s a political thing. I feel I’m kind of being ground in the wheels of a system that wants to use me as a symbol — as another drug dealer in the war.”
With the country turning to the right, many administrators I spoke with fear that they will be required to produce more drug arrests. “It worries me,” says Karen Kenney, director of student life at Berkeley. “The campus environment has already become much more enforcement and compliance oriented, and we may be forced to work with the police on the front end. And I think this campus will become a pretty scary place.” I ask why. “Because the primary goal of a university is to be an academic and educational institution and not to be Big Brother.”
What might have seemed a catchy idea — make schools financially responsible for student drug use — is encouraging them not to be responsible at all. Many universities deliberately turn away from drug use on campus for fear that by recognizing it and not moving to make arrests, they will offend the Department of Education with inaction. “From an official administrative standpoint,” says Santa Cruz’s Diaz, “we certainly don’t want to be in the press saying we know about the horrible, horrible problem, and we’re not doing anything about it.”
One approach to drug use that the universities might otherwise be taking is harm reduction — accepting that some students are going to use some drugs and trying to find the safest ways for them to do so. It’s a variation on a strategy that has been successfully practiced by AIDS educators. But under present guidelines, harm reduction is illegal. “Many people believe that’s the kind of education we should be doing,” says Cathy Kodama, a colleague of Cara Vaughn’s at Berkeley. “But we can’t address this at all. The legality issue is very problematic. Instead, we’re kind of stuck with a method that we know doesn’t work and other methods that we can’t really explore as to whether or not they might work. There are students out there who I feel desperately would like to get some good, solid drug information, but they don’t know who they can trust or where to get it. We can only scare students away from it.”
“We make this strange distinction between drugs that is based on their legality and not their lethality,” says the University of Houston’s Susan Robbins. “Part of the ‘Just Say No’ message is ‘just say no to all drugs because they’re all dangerous and they’re all the same.’ And it’s just not so. Ask any pharmacologist. I personally believe that harm reduction is the best educational approach, but I think the present environment militates against it.”
I meet Bill Modzeleski, a program director with the Department of Education, in the basement of the Washington, D.C., Grand Hyatt after a conference called “Violence in the Schools.” Modzeleski spent some years at the Department of Justice, and he still has the lean, clipped look of a Justice man, as if his frame is exercising zero tolerance with regard to body fat. He believes the drug-free regulations have been a success. I ask him how he feels about harm reduction. “With the discussion around that,” he replies, “I go back to the point that drugs are illegal. We don’t want to have professors and counselors breaking the law by saying to kids it’s all right to take drugs. You can’t give money and support to the universities when they tell kids it’s OK to violate the law.”
I mention to Modzeleski the administrators’ fear that the DOE might soon require more campus drug arrests. He laughs. “If the school has a drug policy,” he says, “I think it’s fair to say the school should enforce that policy. If they don’t feel it’s important, maybe they should be looking for another occupation.”
In the absence of organized harm-reduction programs, some students are beginning to practice safety strategies of their own. The D Party kids at Yale have organized themselves into loose, self-monitoring groups. “I think people are looking out for each other more now,” Michael Dworkin says. “If you see your friends getting too involved with a specific drug, there’s a lot of peer pressure to tell them to stop. That’s the reason, for the most part, why students here will generally do drugs only with other people — for that kind of security.”
He tells me a story about how that security functions. “I made a misstep,” he says. “I was joking, and I said a friend was a smack addict. She doesn’t even use drugs. But within 12 hours, eight people had called me, concerned about this person. They asked why none of us were doing anything to help her addiction, and why hadn’t we told them about it? Once I dispelled the rumor, everything was OK, but it was comforting that it was such an immediate response.”
Berkeley’s Cara Vaughn would prefer that the students had more organized guidance. “But if society doesn’t want you to do it,” she says, “society won’t fund you. “I think this leaves students relying on whoever got to them first, or maybe whoever got to them last,” she continues. “Students who have values will go with their values. Students who don’t have strong values will be more lost. I worry about all of them. I’m 42, and living in these times ain’t easy. And I don’t know what you do when you’re 18, 19, 20.
“We see these students, and we see them a year after they start trying drugs,” Vaughn says. “And we see them when their parents have to come in and collect them because they’re incapable of walking home by themselves. And we can’t clean it up. And we can’t fix it.”