Within the past four months, two students on campus have been arrested on drug and alcohol charges.
One in December and another in early March, students were arrested on charges of possession of drug paraphernalia, marijuana and underage drinking, according to the Upper Allen Police Department.
Although two arrests were made within only a few months of each other, Messiah’s numbers for drug abuse and liquor law violations only total about a handful each year. According to the U.S. Department of Education, there were four drug law violation arrests and three liquor law violation arrests in 2017.
However, there are many more violations that lead to disciplinary actions rather than arrests. According to Dean of Students Doug Wood, around 40 to 50 students can be found violating the law or community covenant each year. Only about 5 to 6 of them will be drug related incidents.
“Both drug and alcohol incidents have increased over the past several years,” said Director of Safety Cindy Burger. “Students are coming to campus with a lot of stress and a lot of baggage and they’re choosing to deal with it by using alcohol and drugs.”
Drug or alcohol reports can come to the Safety Department in a variety of ways. Safety most commonly gets tips from Residence Life staff or the Silent Witness program. If drugs are involved, the police are contacted immediately, however, alcohol violations are handled on a case-by-case basis.
Once investigations are done by Safety, cases are handed to Student Affairs where they determine disciplinary actions. Depending on if the student is a first time or repeat offender consequences range from a stern warning to suspension. In addition to any disciplinary action that may be needed, each student found in violation, must go through an Engle Center assessment. Marcelle Giovannetti, an Engle Center counselor, meets with the students to discuss the incident in a safe space without fear of additional sanctioning.
“They can feel free to ask questions, share feelings or seek additional help,” Giovannetti said. “I offer help and support and talk with the student about what they could benefit from.”
This theme of caring for the student before disciplining them is one that both Giovannetti and Wood find important.
“We are much more interested in a student’s holistic wellbeing than in any particular violation they may have been a part of,” Wood said.
He went on to explain the personal growth initiative administration takes when sanctioning a student in violation of drug and alcohol rules or laws. Some sanctions are always a given, such as connecting to Giovannetti, probation, or a warning. However, Wood may sanction a student to anything from joining a club to joining a Frisbee team.
“There are a variety of issues that can either increase or decrease the likelihood of substance use,” Giovannetti said. Factors such as family history, co-occurring mental health issues, lack of positive coping skills, access, availability and frequency of substance use and trauma can all increase drug or alcohol use.
Because alcohol may be a coping mechanism for a student that struggles with loneliness, for example, Wood may sanction them to get plugged in around campus in a specific way. The Engle Center has proved to be a good first step for students as they typically rate it as extremely valuable, Wood said.
“I am happy to support students in whatever way they most need to feel supported and I know that trusting someone is difficult given the stigma and shame surrounding substance use particularly on a Christian campus where it can feel isolating and lonely,” Giovannetti said.
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Thank you for writing about this. I think Messiah College (esp. Minds Matter) has been making solid effort towards a cultural revolution of self-acceptance and healthy coping, but we’re definitely up against some majorly systemic challenges in the broader culture. Also, Doug and Marcelle are genuinely good people. I’m glad they are there.