Beginning last week, IMSA administrators announced a new policy of random dorm and backpack inspections across campus. The endeavor arose as a response to this spring semester’s increased number of student discipline hearings related to prohibited or illegal substances.
When a student’s room and backpack are randomly selected for a search, they, along with their parents, will be notified and given the choice to be present. At least one staff member of the same sex as the occupants will be involved in the search. Accommodations may be made to allow for the student’s presence. For example, if a student is home during a weekend when their belongings are subject to a search, administration may decide to move the event to the following Monday.
If administration has reasonable suspicion of a student’s possession of prohibited substances, however, they will notify the parents about the details of the situation and require the student to be present during the search. The search will also be conducted promptly, and without the accommodations of a random search.
Pictures of the room before and after the search will be taken in order to ensure accountability for how student’s possessions are handled. Rooms will be left under the same conditions, to the best of the inspector’s ability. Furthermore, in the event of an unknown substance being discovered, administration will work with the health office and security to determine the identity of the substance.
IMSA’s administration does not have a set timeline for the searches, nor are they committing to a certain number of searches per week. Because the goal is to rid campus of prohibited substances in the shortest time possible, the strategy for room searches is subject to revaluation. Although most students recognize the necessity of the searches, they harbor their concerns about this approach.
“I see why the room search is justified,” says Sriya Gandhi (‘21), “But it’s also really uncomfortable. You don’t know what they’re doing.” She also doubts the effectiveness of the searches in combating the dispersal of substances. For instance, if a student has their dorm searched due to reasonable suspicion, they can easily notify friends to prevent authorities from discovering the extent of the problem. “It seems like you just have to be lucky,” she says.
Emily Atkinson (‘21) is worried about the standardization of the policy, and questions whether adequate steps have been taken to publish its details. “I have concerns with the fact that since none of this is in writing and they gave different information to different halls that there won’t be standardized searches,” she says. “They need to have this written down so that the procedure is uniform and each student gets the same information out of their discussions with admin.” Otherwise, she believes that the process may comprise students’ rights.
IMSA faculty have also been informed about the new policy. “I always want to reiterate to my students that I care about them. I value their opinions,” says Mr. Kearney, who had discussions about the policy with students in his social science classes. “Given the nature of the situation right now, having that conversation will hopefully let students know that if they do have a problem, a mental problem, a substance problem, that there are people in this building that can help them. It’s not my job to do that since there are professionals in this building. But, I want students to feel that if they need to reach out to those professionals, I can act as some sort of intermediary.”
In the meetings with each hall, Ms. Berger, Executive Director of Student Life, and IMSA President Dr. Torres encouraged students to clarify their remaining questions with RCs, members of student life, or administration. They also recommended to come forward to counselors as soon as possible if they are in possession of substances. If a student is not considered to be in immediate danger or a danger to other people, counselors are under a confidentiality agreement to not disclose information. Furthermore, they are equipped with mental health training and resources that may help students cope with the underlying problems behind substance abuse.
Despite the reasonable alarm surrounding the situation, Mr. Kearney emphasizes the good intentions of the staff. “All of us in this building care about you as students immensely and simply want to see you healthy and safe,” he says. “In the short term, there are policies that are put in place, and in the long term, I know there will be discussions about how we as faculty, staff, and administration can better serve students to make sure they are taken care of and they are looked out for. In the meantime, I would encourage students to feel comfortable coming to us to talk because we do have your best interests at heart.”
Information about IMSA’s current search and seizure policy can be found in the student handbook.