Black students are disproportionately cited for drug-related offenses at SIU

By Kallie Cox, News Editor

SIU refers black students to Student Rights and Responsibilities twice as often as white students for drug-related offenses, mostly for the reported odor of cannabis.

The Daily Egyptian filed a Freedom of Information Act request for data on how many students were referred to SRR for drug-related offenses from 2017-2019. The information showed more than twice as many black students were referred than white students.

In 2017, 86 black students were referred to SRR compared to 43 white students. In 2018, the numbers were 77 black students to 29 white students. As of Oct. 20, 2019, the numbers were 40 black students to 22 white students.

Advertisement

When asked for comment, SRR responded to the Daily Egyptian and said they could not comment on how referrals are made. 

“Referrals are generally made to Student Rights and Responsibilities by SIU’s Department of Public Safety, Carbondale Police Department and other officials,” Brian Beccue, director of SRR, said. “SRR cannot comment on how these agencies refer students.”

The Daily Egyptian called and left messages with SIU’s Department of Public Safety, but they declined to comment. 

When students are referred to SRR, they have to appear in a hearing and are then found responsible or not responsible, and given a status or educational sanction based on the results. 

These sanctions range from a written assignment to expulsion from the university.

Daniel Vega, vice president of student affairs of the Undergraduate Student Government, said it is highly unfair and discriminatory that black students are being reprimanded for this behavior compared to the small percentage of white students who are being reprimanded.

Vega said rules should be equally enforced on all students.

“I can say without a doubt that the executive board would agree with me on the fact that it is unfair to be treating this disproportionately large portion of African American students that way comparatively to the white students,” Vega said.

The number one offense students were charged with was related to student conduct and was specifically identified in the document as the reported odor of cannabis.

In 2017, a total of 131 students were referred to SRR for student conduct/the odor of cannabis while nine students were arrested for contraband items such as drugs or drug paraphernalia.

In 2018, 99 students were referred for the odor of cannabis, and 10 for contraband while 2019 has had 58 odor and five contraband referrals as of Oct. 20.

The Daily Egyptian asked Beccue how SRR proves the odor of cannabis and he said to find a student guilty there needs to be a “preponderance of the evidence” which means something is “more likely than not to have occurred.”

SIU is a predominantly white school and enrollment for black students has steadily decreased since 2015, where 16.7% of the student population was black or African American.

According to SIU’s enrollment demographics, black students currently make up 13.4% of the student population at 1,564 students, while white students constitute 64.6%. 

Mayuan Wardlow, a senior studying radio television and digital media with a minor in sociology, said a resident assistant called DPS on her in 2015 because he said her room smelled like marijuana. 

The RA was from the floor below hers and claimed to be making rounds as students prepared to leave for spring break. He knocked on Wardlow’s door, and when she answered she said he made a face as though he smelled something. He didn’t mention the odor to Wardlow and instead said he was making rounds and left. 

“Not even 20 minutes later, the police were at my door looking through my window on West Campus and then were knocking on my door telling me that the RA told them it smelled like weed, and that he thinks you smoked in the room,” Wardlow said. “I was like ‘you don’t have any proof, you don’t have any permission to search my room, any of that.’ They asked me for my ID and gave me a referral.”

After receiving the referral, Wardlow said she had to talk to a counselor and attend a meeting at the health center. The referral also became a permanent part of her academic record. 

Alexia Williams, a senior studying Criminology and an undergraduate student government senator representing the Black Affairs Council said she had a similar experience to Wardlow. 

Williams said she was living in Schneider Hall in 2015, when a white student who was a regular resident of the building, not an RA or employee, called DPS and claimed Williams’ room smelled of marijuana.

“The police came, I allowed them to search my room,” Williams said. “They didn’t turn up anything. It still went on my academic records, and I had to write an essay for it.”

Williams said white students can do something wrong on campus and suffer no consequences while black students could do the same thing and get in trouble for it. 

“Stop doing it. Stop profiling me,” Williams said. “Stop profiling people of color; not just black kids, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, anybody of color. Just because I’m not white doesn’t mean I’m doing anything wrong. I’m a student here, I pay my own tuition.” 

Williams said the disproportionate prosecution of black students has to end, and someone needs to be held accountable for it. 

“I go here just like everybody else,” Williams said. “I’m just here to get an education and do a hell of a good job of getting an education.” 

Williams said this issue has been a continuing problem.

“What’s sad is that you’re going to write this article and nothing is going to be done,” Williams said. “This has been a problem since forever, this has been a problem since we’ve been here in 2015 and before that. It’s sad.”

Vega said the disproportionate amount of black students who are being referred to SRR can be traced back to preconceived notions people have.

“I think that really falls back into the whole narrative of stereotypes that we hold against people, and our beliefs when we look at people,” Vega said. “We do have to recognize when we look at people, we are making judgments based off of the way they look, the way they dress and the way they talk.”

Vega said people have to examine their privileges and preconceived notions.

“We have to make sure we are keeping ourselves in line,” Vega said. “If we are going to treat one group of students this way, it should be fair to all groups of students, and you shouldn’t be discounting another student.”

The Daily Egyptian asked SRR what level of diversity training they were required to complete, and Beccue said the staff completes the yearly trainings provided by the university.

“Additionally, SRR staff work closely with the staff of the Student Multicultural Resource Center and the Associate Chancellor for Diversity,” Beccue said.

When asked how SRR plans to address these uneven numbers, Beccue said they have no control over referrals made to their office.

News Editor Kallie Cox can be reached at [email protected]ailyegyptian.com or on Twitter at @KallieECox.

To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

Advertisement