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Looking back, thinking ahead, loving Reed

By Mike Brody on May 03, 2013 09:18 AM

Mike Brody

Mike Brody, dean of student services
Photo by Orin Zyvan

I love Reed. And by virtue of the fact that you are reading this, I assume you too have strong and hopefully very positive feelings about this place. Don’t get me wrong; sometimes Reed kicks my butt. And I know I am not alone in this regard. While it may be painful in some moments, I almost invariably love Reed more after the smack down, because it seems to me that we keep getting stronger, especially when we face our challenges together. Even in the midst of our most acrimonious debates, we are fundamentally in this together.

As Renn Fayre kicks off, I’m taking a moment to think about the year we are celebrating, and I wanted to share some thoughts with you. When it comes down to it my primary focus at Reed is student success. Knowing full well that even the phrase “student success” may raise for some the specter of nannyism, I am nonetheless unapologetic about the college’s commitment to student health, safety, and success. In turn, I am very proud of our alcohol and other drugs (AOD) prevention and response efforts, and I figured this might be a good time to say a word or two in this regard.

The use of AOD is of course a major issue on virtually every one of America’s college and university campuses. Back in the 1960s, Reed College adopted a largely libertarian approach to the use of these substances. Through the ‘80s and ‘90s the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act required all colleges to adopt drug-prevention programs in order to receive any form of federal assistance, including grants and student loans. Prior to this Act, Reed had a long-standing and perhaps somewhat less complicated tradition of relying heavily on students to make responsible choices when it came to these matters. The underlying themes of independence and autonomy are cemented into the ethos of the college, and they manifest in primarily positive ways. As such these elements of Reed’s culture should be cherished, nurtured, and protected.

That said, independence and autonomy in and of themselves do not constitute a viable formula for student success, and in the context of external pressures, the need to strike a thoughtful balance is critical. During the presidency of Colin Diver, the college steadily increased its investment in virtually all forms of student support. Many positive trends began to emerge, including rising graduation rates and diversification of the student body, among others. Despite our best efforts to support student health and wellbeing, the tragic deaths of two students in a two-year span led to painful soul-searching, an often-intense ongoing campus-wide discussion, and eventually to some substantial changes in Reed’s approach to AOD prevention and response.

Today, Reed’s AOD policy is based on the best available science. We have devised a systematic, three-tiered approach to implementing our policy, focusing on the following elements: prevention and health promotion, therapeutic intervention, and enforcement. AOD literature, our colleagues around the country (including a thorough external review by nationally-recognized AOD experts in 2011), and our own experience make it clear to us that each of these three elements represents a necessary part of any effective AOD implementation plan, and no such plan is complete without all three.

Harm reduction represents the central theme of our approach to AOD. We provide education and health promotion resources in order to promote sub-free activities and reduce students’ use and abuse of AOD. We provide therapeutic support to help students who are struggling with AOD-related issues. We consistently enforce our AOD policy to deter students from using AOD and to maintain a campus environment that is honorable, accountable, and conducive to healthy social interaction and learning both inside and beyond the classroom.

I think it’s important to add here that Reed had adopted and implemented this approach before John Kroger arrived last year. John has of course become well informed about Reed’s approach to AOD, and he has said to me and to others on numerous occasions that he sees no reason to change our approach.

Our efforts seem to be paying off. Many indications lead us to conclude that over the last decade, Reed has seen meaningful reductions in AOD use, especially a major drop in highly addictive and dangerous opiates, like heroin and prescription painkillers.

While we take heart in these improvements, it is clear that AOD abuse remains an extraordinarily complex and persistent problem on campuses across the country, and Reed is no exception. Illegal AOD use is incompatible with Reed’s mission. But more importantly, alcohol and other drugs inflict very real and sometimes irreparable harm. Reed’s approach will evolve always with the health, safety, and success of Reed students in mind. I hope you will agree that this approach makes sense for Reed at this point in the college’s evolution.

Here’s to a Reed College whose students are successful, whose alumni are proud of their alma mater, and whose future is bright.

For the love of Reed,
Mike