A year and a half after President Catharine Hill’s announcement via email in Nov., 2013, Vassar College began its official transition into a smoke-free campus. Effective July 1, 2015, the smoking ban prohibits, “consumption, inhaling, exhaling, or burning any type of matter or substance that contains tobacco or plant product intended for inhalation including but not limited to cigarettes, electronic nicotine delivery systems, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, hookahs and marijuana whether natural or synthetic, in any manner or any form.” The 2015-2016 academic year is considered a transitional period. According to Associate Director of Security Kim Squillace in a Miscellany News article from last May, smokers caught by security officers would be asked to kindly put out their cigarettes, their names would be taken down and a report would be generated as part of standard procedure. The smoking ban task force iterated that sanctions would occur only for those that repeatedly violated the rule.
We at the Miscellany News have seen the realities of the smoking ban’s impact on Vassar’s campus. Many students are under the impression that the ban is not being strictly enforced during the transition year and thus still smoke cigarettes freely throughout the entirety of campus. The student body, which, according to a 2013 survey conducted by the Committee on College Life voted 55 percent against the ban, is not taking it seriously. Up until a few weeks ago, there had been no widely broadcasted pushback from the administration.
On Oct. 19, students in senior housing received an email from Assistant Director of Residential Life, Student Conduct and Housing Anders Van Minter regarding the ban. The email was to function as a reminder that smoking was prohibited on campus, including the apartment areas. It served as the first official warning to a large portion of the student body that the ban was in effect and asked students to pick up cigarette buds around their houses. The email continued, “Beginning on Friday 10/23, ResLife will begin documenting residents of apartments where smoking appears to have occurred, and processing incidents through the student conduct system…This includes cigarette butts or ash trays on or around the porch area.” The tone and implications of the email proved rather threatening and implied heavier policing, a stark contrast to the sentiment conveyed to the student body up to that point.
We at the Miscellany News recognize the health concerns that contribute to the justification of a smoking ban. We are also aware that this ban may have been put in place to uphold the reputation of the College going forward. Vassar’s policy is an extension of the Tobacco-Free SUNY policy that began in 2014 and holds successful in 64 schools throughout the state despite student opposition. Vassar’s image as a healthy, forward-thinking institution is naturally desirable from an administrative position. Still, we question the success of these implementations and their methods of being enforced.
In the discussion of a smoke-free Vassar, it is important to acknowledge the various staff and administrative campus employees who must also adhere to the ban. Numerous times, we have witnessed staff members exiting campus to smoke, as they too are required to follow the rule. We question what workers are told of the ban compared to students, as well as the presumably harsher consequences they may face. Vassar students are here for four years, where staff members hold the college as a place of employment and have the possibility to remain here much longer. Could they risk a loss of employment for violating the ban? Not only is it inconvenient and ostracizing for staff members to have to exit campus to smoke, but it is also unfair as students can realistically walk freely through any part of campus smoking a cigarette with no repercussions. The reality of Vassar’s policy is much harsher for employees than students. Just the sheer fact that they have to adhere to the ban while students seemingly do not is already a harsh consequence.
We question the definitive nature of how Vassar’s smoking ban will be regulated and upheld throughout campus. If the College truly intends to make Vassar smoke-free, how can it uphold its mission statement without increased policing on campus? We as students are not aware of the administration’s intentions when it comes to dealing with this issue. Furthermore, the tone of the few emails students have received lacks a sense of respect. The College has been extremely paternalistic in both its decision to pass the policy and the manner in which it has been discussed.
We at the Miscellany News offer several suggestions to more effectively adapt the ban for Vassar’s campus. We call for the establishment of designated smoking areas, either as a transitional measure or permanent fixture on campus. We also suggest the administration adjust its rhetoric in discussing the ban with students to seem less dismissive, as it now speaks down to those on campus who do smoke. It is important to respect (not necessarily allow) individuals’ decisions to consume legal substances, regardless of their legality on campus and not look down on them for such.
In the past, Vassar has offered smoking cessation courses, urging students to quit and furthering the implication that smokers are not wanted at Vassar. Unfortunately, the classes are offered at a price that not all students are able to pay. We are also aware that these courses are not well attended; the Spring 2014 workshop had no participants and the following year’s had one. If there is a mandatory smoking ban on campus, the least the College could do would be to waive the entry fee and make the class free for all participants it is encouraging to attend.
We at the Miscellany News question the implications of the smoking ban. We question what efforts the College has made in furthering their mission, other than removing all campus ashtrays and placing signs throughout campus and on security vehicles indicating that Vassar is a smoke-free campus, not only to make Vassar smoke-free but also help students, particularly smokers, adjust to the new policy. We call for increased transparency and communication along with a strict outline of the administration’s goals for the ban going forward. At this stage, it seems as if the administration is simply “playing it by ear.” We look forward to the start of a productive conversation between the administration and the greater student body surrounding these issues. In regards to a ban that has been hazily implemented and is not supported, we wonder, how will the administration proceed?
—The Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of our Editorial Board.