Dean of students, veterans on campus meet to negotiate tobacco ban policy

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A group of veterans on campus, who feel passionately about the tobacco ban, met with Dean of Students Del Beatty March 6.

Although the veterans had strong points against their argument for a compromise, Beatty said there is nothing he can do for them at this time. 

Dave Gaspardo, a junior integrated studies major from Springfield, Ill., said he was elected as the unofficial spokesperson for the group of veterans that has been vocal about its feelings against the ban, which was enacted Nov. 22.

Gaspardo’s main concerns was that some students had a fear of expulsion due to the way the policy was written.

“[We] feel a very heavy fear of being retaliated against for smoking,” he said. “We’ve heard that even some of the faculty and staff are worried about being fired for violating school policies.”

Gaspardo said the policy does not work to get people healthy; rather, the policy inhibits some students to get over bad habits. He said the university is basically telling those students it doesn’t care about their needs.

“Basically you are telling the alcoholic, who fights every day to not drink, that when he gets stressed out and he wants to have a cigarette that you wouldrather see him crawl back in a bottle,” Gaspardo said. “It’s the same with the drug addict who is trying to get his life turned around, who uses smoking as a coping mechanism to keep the needle out of [his] arm.”

Beatty said although students cannot use products with tobacco, products such as nicotine gum are allowed because it assists with quitting. 

“I think what we need to do is we need to educate everybody,” Beatty said. “It sounds like there’s some misinformation. From what I just read, it seems like the … intent of the policy was that tobacco products can kill people. That’s research-based.”

Gaspardo said the veterans group is simply asking for the opportunity for one designated smoking area on campus.

“We aren’t asking for a total repeal of the policy,” he said. “All we are asking for is the possibility for one smoking area.”

Although the campus is small and smokers can walk to the edge of campus to smoke, Gaspardo said it’s difficult because he has such limited time between classes. He also walks slower than most because he uses a cane. He said it’s hard for him to get from class to class as it is.

“The projection is that the university doesn’t care,” Gaspardo said.

Gaspardo said some students feel they are trapped because DSU is the only university in the area. He said some also feel discriminated against. 

If the veterans were to bring up their concerns to the student senate or administration, Gaspardo said they would be shot down in a heartbeat due to the majority opinion.

Some students, such as Gregory J. Layton, vice president of academics and a senior English major from Cottonwood Heights, think the policy is fair.

“I went to all [of the meetings] as an outsider,” Layton said. “I went to every single forum, and I was there when it started. I feel like it was a very fair process.”

Although Gaspardo and the other veteran’s viewpoints prompted empathy from Beatty, he said that because the policy was created by students, there is nothing the university can do but abide by it. 

Beatty said past student leaders conducted polls and surveys that showed an overwhelming amount of support from students and faculty members.

“It was a student-driven initiative,” he said. “It had nothing to do with administration. It took four years, which is a really long time. It probably shouldn’t have taken that long, but they wanted to make sure that students were adequately heard and issues were being resolved.”

Beatty said the board of regents wasn’t interested in smoking areas on campus. 

“They weren’t super keen on it because our campus is so small,” Beatty said. “Even from the McDonald building you can be on the edge of campus in two minutes (with) no problem.”

The task force would have a difficult time implementing the policy if certain veterans were exempt, Beatty said.

He said although faculty does not report to him, he hasn’t heard any concerns from them yet. 

Beatty said there are many court cases about the legality of having a tobacco free campus. The supreme court said it was OK, and institutions have the right to ban smoking from the property.

Beatty explained that the violators of the policy will not be expelled immediately. The policy is meant to educate students. He said rather than citing the violators on the first offense, officers might just remind them they jeopardize the opportunity to go to school at DSU.

If there were designated smoking areas for veterans, it would be unfair for other students who aren’t veterans, Beatty said. He said the student leaders had a tough decision to make because they knew it would impact people like Gaspardo and other veterans.

“It puts me in a really delicate position,” Beatty said. “Do I understand? Absolutely. Do I sense your frustration? Absolutely. You’ve been nothing but professional today, and I’m going to share these concerns. But really, I can’t do anything. It has to be a student-driven initiative.”

Beatty said he understands how the group feels.

“Right now, we don’t have any choice but to live with the policy we have,” he said.