Alumna’s Letter to the Editor: Kroger Means Well, But Falls Flat
I grew up in the “Just Say No” ’80s, and I went to a Jesuit high school. While I spent most of my high school years avoiding alcohol and drugs because I had been told they were morally wrong and I could die if I were to use them (and the idea of disappointing my parents by dying from snorting cocaine was too horrifying for me to imagine), during my junior and senior years of high school, I became friends with people who used drugs and were not only alive, but interesting people who seemed morally neutral. I remember feeling that I had been completely duped by my parents, my teachers, and my government. Had I attended any school but Reed, I could easily see myself experimenting with any and all drugs which came my way—yes, I know, Reed has a reputation among some for being a “drug college” but if the stories I have been told by the alumni of other institutions is any indication, ALL colleges are “drug colleges,” Reed is just less dishonest about it. But I went to Reed.
Within days (if not hours) of arriving on campus, I was handed a copy of the Student Handbook wherein I found articles giving me very detailed information about drugs—the lethal doses, the long term damage they may or may not do, and what one could expect if one were to choose to use them—and I reveled in the intellectual freedom. The climate at Reed, while permissive with regards to drugs, was never ignorant of the dangers the usage of drugs (including alcohol) entailed. For that reason, I felt comfortable often turning down drugs when they were offered, and I had detailed information to back up my assertion that they were not right for me given what I was going through at that particular time and, more importantly, I almost never experienced any pressure to change my mind after saying no. This is in direct contrast to my experiences in the real world, both before and after Reed, where I often have to repeatedly justify turning down a drink (“I am the designated driver tonight”) or a smoke (“no, really, I have smoked enough pot to know it isn’t my thing”). I never felt Reed was “permissive” with regards to drug use, I felt Reed just allowed us access to the information available and let us make our own choices.
What I appreciate most is that Reed, as an institution values intellectual freedom and honesty. Though it is an unpopular stance to have, this means that Reed does not accept or perpetuate the lies created to support the “War on Drugs,” a policy which seems more like a case of the Ikea Effect on the part of our lawmakers than sound judgment based on facts. Yes, I know there have been students and alumni who have died of drug overdoses, but to suggest this is due to Reed’s influence grossly underestimates the availability of drugs in American society and ignores the psychological and genetic factors which contribute to addiction. If other colleges are not blamed for peoples’ alcoholism, when it seems the whole point of college for a good percentage of students is beer pong and Jager shots, it seems nuts to suggest Reed is to blame for someone’s drug addiction.
All this does not deny that Reed has a reputation, whether justified or not, in relation to what other colleges permit, and that Reed must be mindful of that reputation. It seems obvious to me that John Kroger was selected to be President of the college, in part, to change that reputation. I realize that he probably feels that he was doing the job he was hired to do when he cancelled the Paideia class. In fact, when I first heard about “Paideiagate,” I assumed it was a stupid “Old Reed” vs. “New Reed” thing and the people who had a problem with the class cancellation were just looking for things to complain about. “Give the guy a chance,” I thought, “He’s new and figuring it all out. Besides, it’s Paideia, it isn’t like it is changing the Hum 110 syllabus or anything.” However, as I read more about the situation and the responses to it, I see that it is so much more at stake than just a Paideia class and the people who are expressing concern have every right to sound the alarms.
Regardless of what John Kroger was brought in to do with regards to Reed’s drug culture, he cannot do it if his methods involve changing Reed’s intellectual culture. While I am confident he means well, President Kroger’s response to criticism seems tone deaf and, frankly, like he has not taken the time to truly understand and appreciate the culture of Reed before acting and instead of engaging the community on intellectual grounds, he indulges in the useless fictions and fables society has been told regarding drugs. If his goal has been to get Reedies on his side with regards to changes in attitudes towards drugs, he has failed miserably and made his job harder going forward.
Alison Birkmeyer Aske ’93