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VSA to solicit opinions on smoking ban

S.T.A.R.T to disseminate information

Guest Reporter

Published: Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 15:12


Courtesy of the VSA

In addition to soliciting opinions on the smoking ban. the VSA hopes to educate students on state regulations that would require the College to be smoke-free in the future.

Though previously Vassar has largely resorted to student opinion when it came to the question of implementing a smoking ban, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) is now turning to more empirical evidence before any final decisions can be made.

The Charter for the Smoking and Tobacco Action Research Team—or S.T.A.R.T.—was unanimously adopted on Sunday Dec. 9 at the VSA Council meeting, creating a joint committee whose mission will be to research current smoking and tobacco policies, culture, and practices at Vassar. This need has grown out of the recent discussion of the possibility of a campus-wide smoking ban being currently being considered by members of the administration and the Committee on College Life.

Student representation of S.T.A.R.T. is comprised of four VSA council members: Terrace Apartments President Devin Griffin ’13, President of 2014 Daniel Shaw ‘14, President 2015 Allison Ehrlich ’15, and President of 2016 Maximilien Moran ’16, along with Member at Large Sasha Brown ‘14. The joint committee also will invite one or two members from the faculty and one or two members of the administration to join, allowing for a diverse set of perspectives. Griffin, who presented the charter to council, will be a co-chair alongside one of the unfilled faculty or administration seats. The committee is designated as ad hoc, which means that once its goals have been met it can dissolve.

Moran ’16 said the team was formed primarily out of a desire to pin down the complete range and character of students’ response to the potential ban.

“We don’t have detailed information on where the student body stands why,” said Moran. “As their representatives we need to make informed decisions based on something.”

Later in the year, the joint committee will publicize their findings and present a conclusion to the Committee of College Life, in an effort to provide what the VSA saw as crucial, but lacking data and testimony to the decision process.

Vassar’s consideration of a smoking ban isn’t unique to Vassar; in fact, it is part of a wider movement promoting smoke-free college environments. “It’s part of a natural trend, said Griffin. “We’re seeing a lot of smoking ban on campuses all over.”

In 2011, the City University of New York system banned smoking on all their campuses. This year, the State University of New York System did the same. Private colleges have also been going smoke-free.

As Griffin sees it, Vassar is deciding to act now before it’s hand is forced.

“There is an inevitability of legal pressure,” said Griffin, “and this is providing a very strong impetus for this movement.”

S.T.A.R.T. has not yet approached any faculty or administrators who they hope to recruit to their committee, though Griffin mentioned they were interested in faculty from the psychology and geography department for a wide berth of research experience. In the mean time, the committee’s first steps of next semester will be holding town halls and dorm meetings to start the dialogue on smoking at Vassar. Students will be able to share their thoughts, feelings and suggestions on the matter of smoking, as well as contribute proposals, ideas, and alternative solutions.

In his presentation before the VSA council, Griffin stated that S.T.A.R.T. is about constructive discussion rather than siding one way on the smoking ban. “This committee is not setting out to find out who is on the yes column and who is in the no column,” said Griffin, alluding to the limitations of online surveys.

Last year, a poll conducted by the VSA asked if students thought smoking should be prohibited on campus. The results found that roughly thirty-five percent of students answered yes, while sixty-five percent of students answered no. For Moran, this yes-or-no poll failed to reflect a smoking ban’s finer points.

“Regardless of its strengths and weaknesses, there are a lot of misconceptions about smoking ban,” said Moran. “Our purpose is to collect information and disseminate it so students can take informed position.”

In the council discussion, Vice President of Academics Will Harvey ’13 asked about why the authors had included “Tobacco” in the committee’s name and whether or not S.T.A.R.T. will look into alternate methods of tobacco consumption. S.T.A.R.T. member Shaw ’14 saw a fundamental similarity in all types of tobacco use. “Smoking creates an image in people’s minds,” said Shaw.

“It’s been unclear if a ban would include smoking and all other tobacco usage,” said Griffin. “That could be part of the conversation. There is also no harm in opening up a conversation on other types of tobacco usage.”

Another uncertainty not among the VSA, but among the student body according to Griffin is when a smoking ban would go into effect if it were to be decreed.

“The minimum amount of time before a ban would be implemented would be two years or longer,” said Griffin, suggesting that this timeline is perhaps most salient to freshmen.

“A smoking ban may not affect everyone here before they graduate,” said Moran, “But it will certainly affect us, and that’s why it is important to get involved.”

Gina Greco-Guyhto ’15 encouraged students of all class years to consider participating in the conversation as a duty to the school. She said in an emailed statement, “The very nature of Vassar is based on the idea that we as members of this college, have the right and responsibility to lend our voices in discussions about things that will impact our day-to-day life.” 

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