Smoke screens

By the

April 5, 2001

In October 1998, an amendment, called the Drug-Free Student Aid Provision, was passed as part of the Higher Education Act that prohibits any college applicant with an adult drug conviction from receiving federal financial aid. Last year, Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) pushed bills to repeal this amendment that failed, and Frank wants to reintroduce the repeal bill this spring.

The repeal of this bill, which unjustly punishes drug offenders, is important for several reasons. First, there is no other exclusion from financial aid for criminal reasons, not even for murder convictions. This law also unfairly targets students that need financial aid; families that are wealthy enough to send their child to school without federal aid are not punished by this law. Further, due to the racial inequalities within the sentencing of drug crimes, the law also targets minorities. Also, there is no equal requirement when the federal government gives grants or subsidies to businessmen.

Most importantly, it is counterintuitive to deny education to someone who has been convicted of a drug offense. Making a mistake at a young age should not prevent someone from getting a higher education. Hampshire College President Gregory S. Prince, Jr., said, “Education is the best antidote we have to our social ills. Why do you want to exclude people from the educational stream when trying to keep them in the stream is the most important thing you can do?”

This law does hurt many students, who, without financial aid, cannot afford to pay for college. For this school year, the Department of Education received 9.3 million requests for aid and granted 91 percent of them. However, the Drug-Free Student Aid Provision prevented 8,056 students from receiving aid this year.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy is a collection of campus grassroots groups that are fighting for the repeal of the Drug-Free Student Aid Provision. They have been educating student governments and starting publicity campaigns to raise awareness. Due to the efforts of SSDP, 35 student governments have endorsed a resolution calling for Congress to repeal this law. SSDP also works closely with Representative Frank to repeal the amendment. George Washington, Howard, American, University of Maryland and George Mason Universities all have local branches of SSDP. Georgetown does not. Georgetown should join forces with the other D.C.-area universities to fight this law and, as a D.C. university, we are in a strategic location to do so. A local chapter of SSDP should be formed at Georgetown to show that we are a University that does not stand for discrimination based on class and race and that we believe that education is the answer to drug problems?denying education is not.

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