Student Government Senate discusses smoking ban with Rachel Alldis

Photo by Izzy Burgess ’19  Rachel Alldis spoke at Senate Tuesday night regarding the smoking ban that will go into effect June 2020.

Photo by Izzy Burgess ’19

Rachel Alldis spoke at Senate Tuesday night regarding the smoking ban that will go into effect June 2020.

BY MELISSA JOHNSON ’20

Senate held a Town Hall meeting with Rachel Alldis, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life, on Tuesday, Feb. 19. The town hall meeting was structured with a focus on the new campus Smoke-Free Initiative announced in an email sent by President Sonya Stephens on Feb. 4.  

Stephens’ email read, “After careful consideration, the officers of the College have decided to adopt a 100 percent smoke-free campus policy by June 2020.” 

Alldis opened the meeting acknowledging that the College’s decision to become smoke-free has been met with a mixed response from the student body. 

Kicking off the discussion, she highlighted the work of the exploratory committee, which worked through last school year and this summer to come to the final policy decision. Alongside looking at specific health risks and research data related to smoking, the committee surveyed students, faculty and staff.  

“In the survey sent, we received over 1,000 responses from students and faculty expressing their opinions,” said Alldis. 

The survey found that 13 percent of students identified as smokers and 28 percent of students said that they started smoking once they arrived at Mount Holyoke. In addition, 55 percent of those surveyed said yes, they wanted a smoke-free campus, 16 percent said maybe or maybe not and 29 percent said absolutely no to a smoke-free campus. 

Alldis stressed that the overall goal of the ban is to protect students who have health issues that are exacerbated by the inhalation of second-hand smoke, especially in the residence halls on campus. 

“It has become such a problem, with students being medically impacted by second-hand smoke, that we have enacted a $50 fine if you’re caught inside the residence halls smoking,” said Alldis. “And the 20-foot rule didn’t really do much to prevent others from having to breathe the second-hand smoke.”

In order to implement the smoke-free policy, the College has received a $20,000 grant from the Truth Initiative,  “America’s largest non-profit public health organization dedicated to making tobacco use a thing of the past,” according to their website.

During the meeting, Alldis was asked where the grant money from the Truth Initiative will be spent. “It is going to fund student workers,” she said. “It will also go towards helping provide programming for students, which will be educational programs to help people stop smoking. It will be a mix of those things.”

Several students asked specific questions regarding the policy, such as possible repercussions for smoking on campus once the policy is in effect. Alldis did not have many of these details yet, but told the group that a new committee will be formed with students, faculty and staff again to further explore these questions. 

Alldis explained that this committee will meet throughout the coming year to figure out more policy specifications before it goes into full effect in June 2020. 

“Once we pull the whole committee together, the first thing we will do is develop a timeline as to when we want certain things accomplished,” said Alldis. 

During the discussion, one student asked if a smoke-free        campus policy includes marijuana use. Alldis replied, “Yes, it does include marijuana use. Marijuana is not allowed on campus, and that will not change unless the federal government changes.” Alldis also pointed out that Mount Holyoke does not allow medical marijuana use because of certain federal statutes in place. Where vaping fits within the policy is a detail that the new committee will need to discuss. 

In response to student concerns about peers and staff struggling with addiction, Alldis said, “It is certainly not our intent to push anyone down, and we don’t want this to be punitive in anyway, but our main focus is trying to help people stop smoking and protect those who don’t want to be around smoke.” 

Alldis concluded the discussion by expressing that the ultimate goal in this policy process is to figure out the best way to support students, faculty and staff as the College moves towards being smoke-free.

Senate finished with senators breaking down into Working Groups for the rest of the meeting. Senate will meet again next week, Tuesday, Feb. 26, in the Blanchard Great Room. 

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