Gophers Up in Smoke
Article Written By: Nikita Golizdra
March 8th, 2017 marked the date of the first smoking policy initiative meeting. Taking place at the conference room in Dorsey, the “working group” outlined the first strategies that moved Goucher towards a smoke-free campus. The “working group” was assembled in response to recent student hospitalizations due to respiratory complications caused by secondhand smoke. The group consists of representatives from Goucher’s administration, staff, and student body. Unfortunately, The Goucher Eye was denied access to the bi-weekly Wednesday meetings, though Dean Bryan Coker and an anonymous student shared the discussions and the results of each meeting in detail.
Starting October 7th, 2016, Dean Coker sent out a series of emails regarding the possible changes to the smoking policy that was being enforced. On December 20th, 2016, the “working group” began the recruitment process, after Dean Coker sent a reminder about the new policy, and encouraged students to join the group. On February 10th 2017, the assembled “working group” sent out a message, simply restating the “25-foot” rule, which stipulates that Goucher community members are only allowed to smoke 25 feet away from residential and academic buildings. By March, it seemed as if the new smoking policy had been swept under the rug until an anonymous student informed The Goucher Eye about the first “working group” meeting. After respectfully asking non-members of the group to leave, Dean Coker discussed the results of the first meeting in an interview.
“Over the last ten years, the smoking issue has come up every year,” says Coker, “In my four years the issue came up twice.” Dean Coker states that the current policy of ‘25 feet’ is ineffective and almost impossible to enforce. There are two reasons why the smoking policy initiative didn’t move forward during the fall semester, according to Coker: “We had a student suicide … and then the election happened. It wasn’t the right time to move forward … but we’re not changing directions.” The direction that Dean Coker referred to was the move towards a completely smoke-free campus. “It’s a public health issue … We are a community that highly values the individual. But you have the individual and the community in conflict. Three students went to the hospital this academic year due to respiratory attacks due to secondhand smoke. I also heard stories of students who didn’t smoke before, started smoking after coming to Goucher.” Based on the students going to the hospital, Goucher is an innovative place but behind on the smoking issue, Coker stated that a prospective student’s parent, while impressed with the campus, was discouraged to send their child to Goucher, due to the current smoking policy. This raised the question of whether this policy is a step forward towards the “new Goucher,” but Dean Coker replied that this is an issue of public health, even though the administration recognizes the fact that incoming students are “turned off by the amount of smoking.”
After the group’s next meeting on March 22nd, 2017, the anonymous student shared the student government’s survey about the new smoking policy, along with the results of the last two meetings of the “working group.” It is important to note the survey results after gathering 666 responses from the student body, a little less than a half of Goucher’s population, 48.5% of students responded positively towards the new policy, stating that they support a full smoking ban (15.8%), or the installation of designated smoking areas with an eventual move towards a smoke-free campus (32.7%). However, 49.9% of the respondents did not support the full ban, and voted towards the implementation of smoking areas (24.2%), while the rest of the respondents answered that smoking should be banned only near the entrances and exits of buildings (19.1%), or that smoking should not be banned in any way (6.6%). 1.7% left their answer at “other,” but the survey never allowed an option for elaboration. Interestingly enough, 80.1% of respondents are non-smokers, which fairly represents Goucher’s student body, about 25-30% of the total student population are smokers. According to the anonymous student, these results have been disregarded by the “working group” members.
The anonymous student also saw the group’s lack of diversity as a problem: “[They are] not diverse at all. When we tried to bring other students who are smokers or student senators, the group pushed away extra diversity.” There is also a staff union representative, but they haven’t spoken much during the meeting: “Just because you are at the meeting, it doesn’t mean that your voice will be heard.” The anonymous student added that “the actions of the administration show that they are afraid of confrontation with any pushback.” When the group discussed designated smoking spots, the anonymous student proposed the idea of putting walls around the designated areas to clearly mark the smoking zones. “When I proposed that, they were against that idea, because, one, they didn’t know whether they had the funds, and two, they want to wean people from smoking – they don’t want to make it convenient or accessible. That’s a problem because people might not use [the areas].” The anonymous student was also worried about student pushback: “My first group of friends was full of smokers, and they aren’t the kind of people to go along with a policy like that. All it will do is force more discreet behavior, and people will still get away with it like alcohol and drug policies.”
The anonymous student stated that there was a tentative construction budget that would go towards the construction of smoking areas in the form of gazebos and that it will not affect the tuition price. Goucher decided to install outdoor ashtrays instead of gazebos.
After a full semester of information gathering, The Goucher Eye received the final update regarding the policy, which is divided into two phases:
According to some students and student representatives, this policy reminds them of the 2016 update to the campus employment policy. A large portion of student responders left personal responses in the mentioned survey, stating that a “smoking ban is a violation of civil rights,” while others state that they are happy that “something is finally happening” – remaining respondents voiced indifferences towards the concerns of smokers and non-smokers. Dean Coker reminded students that the administration and Health Services are willing to work with current smokers wishing to quit, offering alternatives to cigarettes and other tobacco products. According to the smoking policy, Goucher College is fully expected to become smoke-free by July 2018.
According to the smoking policy, Goucher College is fully expected to become smoke-free by July 2018.