Web Exclusives:On the Campus...

March 9, 2005:

Smoke signals

By Ashley Johnson ’05

Starting with the fall term, Princeton’s dormitories officially will be smoke-free. Vice President for Campus Life Janet Dickerson recently approved the dormitory smoking ban recommended by the Undergraduate Life Committee (ULC), a subcommittee of the Undergraduate Student Government. The USG’s voting members chose not to support the recommendation, but the University still adopted the new rule, which bans smoking in student rooms and common areas of the dormitories, sparking grumblings from the smoking community.

ULC chair Juan Lessing, a senior from Oak Park, Calif., hopes the University will continue to discuss the policy before its implementation and include as many voices and viewpoints as possible. “Ultimately, it comes down to determining whose responsibility it is to protect the student’s health and well-being,” Lessing said. “We determined the University [is] responsible, but that does not mean it should simply implement a policy. It should rather consult with students of varied opinions and implement the appropriate version of the policy.”

Dickerson, who had worked with Lessing through the research and proposal process, cited second-hand smoke and fire hazards as the primary reasons for enacting the ban. Lessing interviewed students, faculty, and campus organizations, and held office hours to gather student opinion on the topic. He also spoke with the Housing Department to discuss possible solutions. Ultimately, his research left the ULC with narrow options for recommendations in light of economic and health-related concerns.

“We found the nonsmoker’s right not to be harmed by second-hand smoke to supersede the right of the smoker to smoke in his or her dorm room,” said Lessing. “We are not against smokers or smoking, but rather for the general health and fire safety of all students.”

Currently, students are allowed to smoke in their private rooms, though the majority opt to smoke outside the buildings. If complaints arise among roommates, they are to be handled between the smoker and the party offended. If a dispute cannot be resolved, Princeton is obligated to move the smoker. However, the Housing Department cites a lack of empty rooms for its inability to comply fully with this policy.

Lessing struggled with the final recommendation, carefully considering the claim that he was infringing on students’ individual rights. The ULC examined various options before endorsing an outright ban, including the idea of smoking dorms, smoking entryways, and smoking floors. Lessing’s research found that these ideas would be difficult to implement, since student smokers represent a small minority and ventilation systems cannot isolate second-hand smoke.

Students have varied responses to the action. Junior Debra Siegel agreed, citing a concern for fire safety. “If I can’t even have a wrapped candle in my room, why should someone be allowed to have a lit cigarette?” she said. But a sophomore smoker, who requested anonymity, argued that “one smoker in a whole building isn’t going to cause cancer in anyone.”

The ban will not extend to the eating clubs, which handle smoking in various ways. While smoking is somewhat common during late nights, it is almost unheard of during dinner, unless the club happens to be Terrace, where smokers have their own dining room. “There’s no rule about it,” said Carolyn Pichert ’05, a member of Cap and Gown, “but even during Bicker the smokers would go outside. It’s just ingrained now.”

The ULC based its decision on various studies and findings, as well as earlier implementation by other Ivy League Universities. Lessing said Princeton was slower in revising its policy because “we wanted to ensure that it was what the student body wanted and needed. We did not want to enforce policy that had not been researched and presented to the student body for consideration.”

Lessing contends that the policy is intended to aid the students. The Harvard School of Public Health recently released a study finding that college students who live in smoke-free residence halls are 40 percent less likely to take up smoking than those who live in housing where smoking is permitted. He also hopes that the University will consider expanding its free smoking-cessation program for employees to include students. “We discovered that a large portion of smokers want to quit,” said Lessing. “This could be a great start for them.”


THE PLANNING of the annual Take Back the Night march, organized by the Women’s Center and the SHARE organization and typically held during April, illuminated a previously visited issue for women on campus: the absence of a local rape kit. Organizations as well as students have been pressing for the rape kit, which consists of 12 envelopes and various tools for collecting physical evidence, to be added to McCosh Health Center’s services.

Currently, Public Safety must escort victims of sexual abuse on campus to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick, roughly a 30-minute ride, in order to have their case documented for possible court proceedings. The issue raised on campus is, after enduring such a traumatic encounter, should a University student be forced to make great efforts to ensure the preservation of evidence?

To date, no other Ivy League school’s health center offers a rape kit, but all are located within five to 10 miles of an equipped medical facility.

After strong encouragement from individual students, mainly victims of sexual assault on campus, the University Health Services requested money for the kits in its 2004-2005 budget. The University denied the request, citing economic and legal concerns. Rape kits require training for those who will process them, necessitating orientation programs as well as payment for 24-hour on-call qualified nurses. Beyond the economic concerns, Princeton insists that the primary issue in introducing rape kits is the need for absolute accuracy. In 2003, chief clinical officer at McCosh Janet Neglia commented to the Daily Princetonian, “I don’t see why the rape kit is the be-all and end-all. The collection of evidence that can be used to prosecute the persecutor must be done to exacting standards, or it will not be allowed [for use in court].”

According to national statistics reported by The Help Line, a nonprofit agency working in prevention and education of sexual assault, one in four college women has been a victim of rape. Princeton’s reported 2001 statistics were far below this average: 0.6 percent said they had been raped, 2.6 percent said they had experienced unwanted sex, 4 percent said they had experienced unwanted physical advances, and 9.3 percent said they had been sexually harassed. According to Director of Public Safety Steven Healy, an estimated 70 to 80 percent of rapes go unreported nationwide. The undergraduates pushing for the campus rape kit hope that a local means of reporting a crime, and opening the possibility of going beyond the options of counseling, would decrease this number.

Katherine Reilly ’05, a member of the Princeton Organization of Women Leaders and a PAW “On the Campus” writer, said the push for a rape kit is part of a larger goal. “Princeton should make it as simple and painless as possible for women who have been sexually assaulted on campus to seek counseling, to receive medical treatment, and to understand their legal options,” Reilly said. “Having a rape kit at McCosh would mean that women who have already suffered a great deal would not have to leave campus to get this kind of help.”

Ashley Johnson ’05, an English major from Florence, Ala., can be reached at ajohnson@princeton.edu.