The “Know Your Rights” forum, held on Tuesday, Nov. 12, was a collaborative effort between the Student Association (SA), Students Against Mass Incarceration, Queer Student Union and Students for a Sensible Drug Policy.
The current marijuana policy was the focus of this semester’s forum.
The forum opened with statements made by Student Association (SA) Vice President Zachary Rousseaus and continued with a PowerPoint presented by SA Senator Kelly Brennan. The presentation said that New Paltz has one of the strictest marijuana drug policies in the SUNY system — a “No Second Chance” policy.
According to the SUNY New Paltz Student Handbook, the first offense for a student caught with marijuana may entail a strike, disciplinary probation, the student’s parents being notified and a required attendance of a rehabilitation seminar; the second strike reads “no less than expulsion.”
The PowerPoint presentation continued: the “No Second Chance” policy is one of the strictest marijuana policies not only compared to other schools in the SUNY system, but also compared to other four-year universities. The PowerPoint said that Harvard University has a less strict marijuana policy than New Paltz does.
“The marijuana laws on this campus are heavy,” SA President Manuel Tejada said.
Tejada and Brennan noted that many cases in the University Police Department’s log are non-violent marijuana charges.
Student rights advocate and local lawyer Andrew Kossover, who has participated in Know Your Rights forums in the past, emphasised the fourth, fifth and sixth amendments: protection from illegal search and seizure; right to due process; and right to an attorney, respectively.
Students then watched the film “10 Rules for Dealing with Police” by the organization Flex Your Rights. The film features lawyer Billy Murphy and aims to “show you how to make the law work” by instructing viewers on 10 rules that will help them in police encounters. The film was followed by an open discussion between Kossover and students attending the forum.
Kossover reminded students that their basic freedoms are protected under federal law.
“You’ve got everybody [in New Paltz] wanting to be a cop and for whatever reason they love picking on students,” Kossover said. “You do not check your constitutional rights at the gates of campus.”
Cards outlining basic student rights were handed out at the forum for students to keep. One bullet states: “The police are here to keep you safe. Always be aware of your surroundings and help them do their job.”
Tejada said he hopes the Know Your Rights forum will give students “some sense of empowerment” when it comes to dealing with police encounters.
“Be smart with the knowledge you have,” Tejada said. “Use it to the most positive use.”