While at GW, you should never forget that you don’t own the facilities that you are using. In the dorms, your personal living space is open for inspection at any time and for almost any reason. In the case that University Police smell the foul wafting of marijuana smoke, GW can search every room on the floor until their find the guilty party. Imagine sitting on your bed watching GW employees going through your closet, dresser, and desk because somebody on your floor hit the reefer.
During a room search, the privacy invaders throw your property on the ground in the middle of your room and leave it there. You are left with a huge mess to clean up and a gaping hole in your dignity. “An administrative search” is allowed, according to CLLC policy, “when there is reason to believe” that a student is breaking any rule or law. Basically, the policy is worded to ensure that GW can search your room if an administrator would like to. The policy amounts to an “open door” standard for students. Whenever GW wants to search a student’s dorm room, the door is always open. Although the need to search dorm rooms can be justified in some cases, there should at least be guidelines to protect students.
Every semester, students’ dorm rooms are searched based on peer allegations, CLLC suspicion or University Police reports. UPD will often use students against each other to find more rooms to search. If another student makes an anonymous tip about you, your room can be searched. If a student gets caught violating GW policy, any names they give UPD can lead to more administrative searches. Students pay too much money for housing on campus to forfeit all of their rights to the University. The decision to search a student’s living space should be made with extreme care. The decision to search a student’s living space should require standards. Students deserve a safe environment where they can live private lives. Being safe should not have to mean throwing away your rights.
When UPD smells marijuana from the hallway, GW has no choice but to act. But moving to curb drug use in the dorms should not be used as an excuse to violate student rights. If UPD searches a room looking for drugs, they should be looking for drugs. One of the most outrageous aspects of GW policy is that they can look for any violation during a search. For example, if a room is searched under drug suspicion, they can search the computer, computer files and e-mail. Further, if a drug search turns up a Swiss army knife or bottle of wine, SJS will use the unrelated violation against you. For a school that touts itself as a place to study democracy, GW needs lessons on the Fourth Amendment and due process.
Last semester, I had a discussion with my professor about the historic role of university police on college campuses. He explained to me that it did not always used to be this way. In the past, university police concerned itself almost exclusively with protecting the physical safety of the student population. Law enforcement was left to the government. Today, the GW University Police Department is claiming to be protecting students from themselves and from each other. In a city where students are kidnapped, murdered and mugged, it is time for UPD to consider a new focus moving forward. I happen to believe that violent crime in the streets is more of a problem than a bong in the dorms.
-The writer, a junior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist