Up in smoke

By JOHN ZORABEDIAN  |  January 25, 2006

“Before, when URI was not a dry campus, most of the partying went on on-campus — it was contained,” Daigle says. “Now, there are parties going on next to people living with kids and their families, so they are understandably angry . . . You can have a few maybe drinking in the [dormitory] room and, if you’re lucky, an RA won’t catch you. But if you want to party, you have to go 20 minutes away — which means you have to drive.”

Some URI students believe police in surrounding communities unfairly target them. One senior, who asked to not be identified because of his upcoming trial, says he was arrested outside of his house in Charlestown after he told officers they could not enter his home, and was charged with obstructing police.

Although the student was hosting a party with 40 to 50 people, he says, most were of legal drinking age and there were no drugs in the house. The student says police demanded to know how much marijuana was in the building, and when they found none, told students who had been drinking to drive home. This URI student says his peers are often pulled over “for no reason,” and asked if they are URI students, and if they have drugs or alcohol in the car. “I feel very targeted,” he says. Ross Butterworth, the student pulled over and arrested in Charlestown for marijuana possession, says, “A lot of police are bugging out down there.”

URI senior Ben Terry says the university is trampling students’ rights in the name of security. “They’re clearly well-intentioned. I can’t really blame the university for trying to foster a safer environment,” Terry says. “I think the real problem [is] they begin to contradict basic constitutional [rights].” 

Last fall, Daigle and the SSDP formed a coalition with 20 other student groups to combat the university’s new disciplinary policies that went into effect this semester, including the extension of its jurisdiction to discipline students for off-campus behavior and enabling residence hall directors to search student dorm rooms based on “concrete evidence” of a violation. After establishing a Web site for the coalition, www.urirights.org, “I started getting calls from students I didn’t even know,” Daigle says. “And they were like, you know, ‘Help me. I was in my dorm room last weekend, an RA came in, I had a small bag of pot, and now I’m getting arrested and thrown out of school.’ ”

Junior Ryan Bilodeau, who heads the URI College Republicans, initially agreed to join the URI Rights coalition, but pulled out after other college Republicans complained that he did not consult with them. Although Bilodeau says he “understands where they [the coalition] come from,” he ultimately sides with the university on the new policies. “They really needed to do something like this,” Bilodeau says. “To change a culture, sometimes you have to be a little extreme at the beginning.”

Bilodeau, who is 20, says he does not drink or do drugs. He believes students at URI choose to drink because they are apathetic about involvement in student groups and activities. “There’s not enough to do on campus, so kids stay in their room and drink,” he says. At the same time, discipline seems inconsistent to him from dorm to dorm “Some kids will be made an example of,” Bilodeau says. “It’s bad luck. It all comes down to who’s enforcing. Some RAs just don’t care.”

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