A High-Minded Chair

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While returning students have likely come to expect annual public safety alerts about 4/20 from the UCSC police department around April 20, the university’s top student representative recently sent an unexpected email to the student body criticizing this event and urging students not to attend.

Student Union Assembly (SUA) Chair Shaz Umer opined that in order to look out for the campus, “we cannot let this culture continue,” in reference to what he calls, “the ‘stoner’ stereotype and image.” A post on Facebook’s “Official Group of UCSC Students,” and its comments section, made it apparent that some students felt the SUA Chair’s email was condescending.

Umer responded to the criticism on Facebook by stating that he meant “to incite discussion of a larger issue.” Given that it is the duty of the Chair to interact and foster dialogue with students, this was an admirable response. While we appreciate Umer’s professed intentions, we disagree with his decision to go about this goal by issuing a directive.

Few individuals at this university have the privilege of being able to send an email to the inboxes of every undergraduate student on campus. While we respect Umer’s right to his opinion, we do not see the broadcasting of a personal judgment, especially a patronizing one, as a prudent use of this privilege. This is especially troubling given that during the 2013-14 academic year, Umer sent only five emails to the undergraduate student body.

Our SUA Chair states in his email that UCSC is known for being vegan-friendly, environmentally-friendly and LGBT-friendly, then proceeds to comment on why UCSC should not be cannabis-friendly. It should be the prerogative of our student representatives to approach all subsets of the student body, including those who choose to consume marijuana recreationally, with a mindset of tolerance.

The prohibition and criminalization of marijuana is the topic of an ongoing national debate and while we do not support breaking the law, those who choose to civilly disobey a law they see as unjust do not deserve to be treated as stains on the university’s reputation, but with respect and understanding. Given the United States’ unjust war on drugs, which enables rampant police brutality, racial profiling and mass incarceration of nonviolent users every year, we feel it is more than fair to regard the use of marijuana as an act of civil disobedience. We believe civil disobedience does not diminish UCSC’s reputation but, on the contrary, adds a unique aspect to it.

Although this unique aspect of UCSC may be appealing to some members of our community, we understand there are many who share Shaz’s opinion. OPERS’ Healthy High Festival, which students were notified of in three separate emails (including one from Umer) was a good alternative for students who do not want to participate in 4/20, especially those who live in Family Student Housing and/or have children.

The name “Healthy High,” however, creates a problematic dichotomy between two supposed fronts on campus, “healthy” and “stoner.” While the event was an opportunity for students to have something else to do on 4/20, we feel it alienated many students who may not necessarily agree that it was any more a “healthy high” than 4/20.

Negative stereotypes about 4/20 and its attendees simplify the variety of reasons people choose to participate. Many who choose to participate do not conform to these negative stereotypes, but instead attend to enjoy the entertainment that many bring to the event, engage in an act of civil disobedience, or simply seize the opportunity for camaraderie.