In December, Georgetown’s Department of Athletics introduced the Drug Screening and Education Program, a new policy that would screen student-athletes for drugs and alcohol. Under the new program, student-athletes are liable to be subjected to both randomized tests and tests on the basis of reasonable suspicion every day, year-round and anywhere around the world.
It does not matter if a student-athlete is out of season, taking a season off due to injury, studying abroad or in an area where the substance is legal — all students have to abide by departmental regulations as long as they remain student-athletes.
The policy is also extraordinarily severe, adding alcohol to the list of tested substances on top of a pre-existing drug testing regimen mandated by the NCAA for all varsity sports.
It allots the same sanctions for alcohol and marijuana consumption despite the fact that only one is a federally illegal substance. Violators could potentially face sanctions including suspension, permanent removal from athletic participation and reduction or nonrenewal of a student-athlete’s grant-in-aid.
The rollout of this new policy, which will take effect Feb. 1, has been clumsy at best, dragging throughout the entire semester and leaving the majority of the coaching staff in the dark. Until December, student-athletes did not know the details or existence of the new policy except through hearsay, though they were requested to complete online educational courses and to attend a mandatory departmentwide talk regarding substance abuse in November.
Student-Athlete Advisory Committee representatives were formally introduced to the policy before all the coaches, and still neither coaches nor students were provided with a hard copy of the policy until after all students had departed for winter break.
Although Director of Athletics Lee Reed said in a November address to the entire athletic body that this is not meant to be a “gotcha” policy, in most cases, student-athletes receive no advance notification prior to testing. That is not to say, as a student-athlete myself, that I am denying the possibility that substance abuse is a serious problem affecting the athletic community.
I do believe, however, that over the past few years, during which the university claims to have been researching this issue, Georgetown missed the opportunity to open dialogue and make the case to the student body that change is needed. I wish I could direct the student body to the policy itself for further explanation and reference, but it is not currently a public document, and I do not know if it will ever be.
Regardless, even if it were the best-designed, fairest policy in existence, the fact that it inherently targets a select subsection of Georgetown students should be a point of discussion. Of course, because every participant within the athletic department opts to participate in the program, the department clearly reserves the right to implement this policy. However, we all opt in to being Georgetown students.
In theory, Georgetown has the right to implement a policy to test the entire student body at random intervals. This program is not concerned with performance-enhancing drugs; rather, its clear focus is on recreational drugs and alcohol use.
Then why are only athletes subjected to the policy? If Georgetown has reason to believe student-athletes are at greater risk of substance abuse than their counterparts, the university should publicly release the data that has led to this conclusion.
The only provision in the policy that comes close to explaining this is the claim that “the Department of Athletics recognizes that student-athletes may face added stress relating to time constraints, performance expectations, exposure to pressure and many other factors not imposed on the general student body.”
The policy points to NCAA research implicating mental health as one of the most pressing issues confronting student-athletes and concluding that substance abuse is a manifestation of this condition.
However, the fact remains that increased substance use is only a symptom of poor mental health, and this stringent policy does nothing to address the underlying issues that affect the mental health of student athletes.
As it stands now, the policy presents an undue burden that should not be imposed on the athletic community.
I call on the athletic department and the university administration to explain why student-athletes, and not any other subsection of the student body, are subject to a policy monitoring the use of alcohol and recreational drugs — substances that are not unique to athletes and have consequences far beyond athletic capability.
Caroline Thomas is a junior in the College and a captain of the women’s lightweight rowing team. This Viewpoint solely represents the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect those of her team.
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