Campus life gears student conduct programs towards conversation


Ching-Bush cites active communication with students as the most important step in any sanctioning process.  Photo courtesy of Beacon Archives.

By Kaitlyn Bryson

The college shaped its alcohol and marijuana peer-led programs around conversation and education rather than punishment.

The Office of Community Standards and Student Conduct renamed the alcohol education program from CHOICES to “Bring Your Own Conversation.” In light of dispensaries opening around Massachusetts, the college will rework its educational program on marijuana called Let’s Be Blunt to appeal to more students.

For the first year, the Emerson College Police Department will act as contributors to Let’s Be Blunt in a reaction to the recent state legislation. ECPD mainly gets involved through campaigning and posters to promote the college policies on marijuana, ECPD Deputy Chief Eric Schiazza said.

Two student, or peer, educators lead each of these hour-long programs to foster a more conversational environment, Assistant Director for the Center for Health and Wellness Laura Owen said.

“We are looking for students who are really good at running a group where they can start conversations and ask questions,” Owen said. “Marijuana is a topic people are pretty passionate about, so validating other people’s sides of it is an important part of it.”

All students interested in learning more about alcohol consumption or marijuana use and effects can attend the sessions, according to Assistant Dean for Campus Life Elizabeth Ching-Bush.

“We have been trying to visibly educate students on different ways on which they can be safe on campus but also understand our policies,” Ching-Bush said.

Resident assistant Sean Zhuo said RAs underwent a two-week long training process in August to become familiar with these programs and other topics such as Title IX, diversity and inclusion, self-care, and how to handle these issues with their residents.

“We just want to make sure they don’t freak out—we want them to understand that it is okay to make a mistake,” Zhuo said. “The most important thing is that they learn things from it.”

The unlawful possession, use, or distribution of drugs or alcohol by any student on Emerson property, or in connection with any college activity, is prohibited, according to Emerson’s official policy.

A typical sanction for a student’s first violation includes a formal warning, a $50 fine, a notification to the student’s parent or guardian member, and a mandate to take the educational program that corresponds with their violation.

Ching-Bush cites active communication with students as the most important step in any sanctioning process. 

“I think just more of the idea of making sure our sanctioning process, to us, meets the needs of what the students might need based upon the conversations we have had,” Ching-Bush said.

Resident Director for the Colonial Building, Michael Barcelo, deals with cases of on-campus alcohol, drug usage, and other residential issues. Barcelo said he talks to students one-on-one for a better understanding of who they are and their side of the story.

“It is about helping them understand and/or get them to a point where they see why this policy is in place and why their behavior and/or actions were not congruent with that policy,” Barcelo said.

Sophomore Jack Billotti said two RAs sanctioned him for participating in a party involving alcohol in a friend’s suite in Piano Row last January. After the RAs found marijuana in a room, they filed an incident report. Billotti said he was written up for a marijuana violation and had to take both the alcohol and marijuana educational programs.

“I appreciated the fact that the students leading the classes were very non-judgemental, and it wasn’t a scared-straight situation, but more educational,” Billotti said.