Tackling Tragedy With Community Support

Members of the Berkeley Student Cooperative Bring a Holistic Perspective to Address Problems Of Substance Abuse Within the Community

Patricia Kim/Staff

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Pain follows every tragedy. Questions are asked. What happened? What went wrong? Could this have been prevented?

We're inclined to apply labels of "right" and "wrong" and cast a net of judgment to find someone to blame. The truth is never so absolving.

I'm alluding to the tragedy of John Gibson, but his case represents a larger, painful social issue. Last fall brought us the scandals of "drugs in the Ivy League,"with police coordinating raids on drug distributors at Georgetown University, Cornell University and even Columbia University. Substance abuse is an especially acute issue in the student demographic, where poor judgment and risky behavior can derail futures and shatter entire communities.

The Berkeley Student Cooperative (BSC), just like any other student community, is not exempt from this reality. But to blame our organization or the other residents of Cloyne Court for one student's actions is an injustice to the complexity of the problem and the culture of our organization. According to UCPD Chief Mitch Celaya, UCPD statistics refute the media's negative portrayal of that vibrant community. The press also never mentions that Cloyne contributes 375 volunteer community service hours each semester to a number of important community causes and hosts events for philanthropic student organizations like V-Day and Dance Marathon.

The BSC is unique in that we are a democratically self-governing organization of students. Other organizations can appeal to the "higher powers"of Cal Housing or the Office of Student Conduct to step in as enforcers, but we rely on each other and the policies and procedures we create for a safe, healthy living environment. And while other student housing organizations may choose - or are forced by political pressure - to take a counterproductive zero-tolerance approach and judge substance abuse as a "moral" failing, we recognize that we have the opportunity and the responsibility to look more closely at how we conceptualize substance abuse and see if we can or should do something different ... and better.

As we began researching, visioning and planning, we realized that through the honesty and openness of our dialogue, we would be opening ourselves up to even more public censure. Our society sees substance abuse as a moral failure - and punishes accordingly - rather than understanding it as risk-taking behavior or as a physical disease. Growing up in the aftermath of the failed "War on Drugs," my colleagues and I know better than to ignore the reality that drugs and alcohol are readily available to students.

Our goal - in the spirit of Berkeley's and our own progressive history - is to establish a policy and resource framework that does not alienate and stigmatize members of our community who are using drugs and alcohol, but rather acknowledges the issues and gives members the tools and support that they need to address their problems, while preserving the viability of the community.

Our approach is fundamentally an educational one. Last fall we articulated our values into the platform of BSC C.A.R.E.S., or Community Awareness, Responsibility, Education and Support. Our members are intelligent, thoughtful and socially conscious. By raising awareness and training members on how to identify, recognize and act on their concerns, we can foster a stronger community.

On Feb. 26, we held a general membership meeting to engage our members in these issues and initiate a conversation among not just our 1,275 members, but also UC stakeholders, our alumni and health and addiction experts. It was a healthy, dynamic - and in the words of one alumni, "historic" - discussion, attended by over 150 of our members. Our substance abuse policy is the most realistic and supportive of any that our Operations Committee found during its research (which covered the campus residence halls, private Berkeley housing, and other cooperatives across the country). We're working to collaborate more with the Tang Center so our members know the resources they offer, and we're building a liaison relationship with UCPD to foster greater trust and communication.

We want to keep our members safe and healthy, and provide environments for them to thrive. Opening ourselves to public debate and criticism over these politically-charged issues has not been easy, but my hope is that the Berkeley Student Cooperative will someday serve as a model for others ready for a transparent and community-based approach to substance abuse.

Editor's Note: Daniel Kronovet is a former employee of The Daily Californian.


Daniel Kronovet is president of the BSC. Reply to [email protected]

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