By Ben Gordon-Sniffen ’23 (he/him), Web Editor

Cartoon by Sam Cochran ’24

Most of the Davidson student body probably isn’t familiar with college-mandated drug testing for athletes. Even within the Athletic Department, the lack of clear, shared information on the policy leaves many student-athletes unsure of how drug testing works, and the 17-page write-up at the end of the scholar-athlete handbook doesn’t provide much clarity. Hidden within the confusing language, the Davidson College Drug and Alcohol Education and Testing Policy contains some heinous problems. 

Because of the unfairness and vagueness of the college’s non-NCAA-mandated drug testing protocols, a few athletes formed Davidson Against Drug Policing this summer. The group, now more than 200 strong, has simple aims: to reform the drug policy into a more holistic, rehabilitative program designed to help student-athletes instead of punishing them. As our community becomes more inclusive and aware of prejudicial policies, addressing student-athlete drug testing is paramount.

Concerning the lack of clarity, the policy reads like an iOS update contract. The font is small, and the guidelines are written in verbose legal jargon. The policy fails to make students aware of the arrangement they sign on to and hides problematic consequences and protocols. It takes prying eyes to find the most abhorrent part of the policy, which is hidden in the middle of the drug testing section: reasonable suspicion testing. 

For the most part, drug tests are random; each semester, an algorithm selects a few students from each team to pee into a cup with a witness from the drug testing company present. The reasonable suspicion component, however, gives the Athletics Department the ability to test anyone they want, with absurdly minimal cause. For most students, mood swings, fluctuations in grades, and new hairstyles are side effects of midterms, finals, or just life in general.* Yet, under the policy, these are just a few of the criteria that justify drug testing under reasonable suspicion.

The policy gives athletics potentially prejudicial power to test whoever they want, which is especially concerning given how drug policing has disproportionately affected people of color. Another concerning component of the policy is the overlap between qualifications for reasonable suspicion and the effects of mental health problems. Given the prevalence of mental illness in athletes and the need for support systems, punishing students for their mental health conditions contradicts everything our community strives for.

If the Athletics Department instituted these protocols exclusively to help athletes struggling with drug use, the policy could have merit. Unfortunately, the policy falls right down the party line on American drug policing, with an emphasis on punishment overshadowing much needed rehabilitation. If a student-athlete tests positive once, the college institutes a mandatory minimum suspension of 10 percent of their season. Punishments for repeated positive tests increase exponentially, with a suspension of half a season after a second failed sample and, subsequently, a loss of any remaining eligibility for the third strike.

These consequences hurt athletes without any evidence that they reduce drug use or increase the safety and well-being of student-athletes, but the even harsher punishments hide within the even finer print. After a positive drug test, the Athletics Department recommends the athlete for a “counseling, rehabilitation, and behavior modification evaluation” by the college’s counseling center. This measure seems like a step towards rehabilitation and support. However, despite the school’s vast financial resources, the student must pay for any and all expenses incurred by the evaluation and subsequent treatment. 

The financial burden for athletes doesn’t stop there. After a second positive drug test, Section II. C. of the consequences section calls for “cancellation of all or part of any given aid to the scholar-athlete by Davidson College” with no accommodations for students with high-financial need listed. These policies hurt lower-income students the most and unfairly target those like myself who need Davidson’s aid to attend.

With all of the strict punishments and the Reaganite “Just say no” dogma, one might assume that student-athlete drug testing is just another outdated blue law of the college. On the contrary, athletics only instituted non-NCAA mandated drug testing five years ago, as Assistant Athletic Director Katy McNay disclosed at a recent SAAC meeting. This recency tells us that just as quickly as the college implemented this policy, we can create a more just and rehabilitative program. 

I don’t mean to bash the athletics administration, only the harsh and unfair policy they enforce. In all fairness, the Athletics Department has recently tried to follow the path towards equity. As a first step, the department released a statement regarding its commitment to “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Athletics have helped athletes to engage socially and politically with mandated anti-racist trainings and a voter registration drive. Still, we as the student body have the obligation to hold both ourselves and our administration accountable to equitable goals, or else our commitments mean nothing. Both reasonable suspicion testing and financial punishment directly contradict the athletic department’s initiative, and, therefore, it is our duty to change.

Davidson Against Drug Policing calls for the following:

 1. Eliminate the marijuana testing portion of the drug test

a. The current test violates the trust endowed by the Honor Code.

b.     There is nothing unique about marijuana that makes it applicable to student-athletes.

c.     Historically, the punitive and criminal nature to which marijuana is policed in this country has specifically targeted POC.

2. Eliminate reasonable suspicion testing

a.     This process immediately inserts bias into the testing process.

b.     The reasons that one could be tested based on reasonable suspicion (including weight gain, weight loss, not sleeping well, poor grades) are arbitrary and allow for the school to test seemingly whoever they want.

3. Financial Fairness: reinstate financial aid for students and have the college provide free counseling and rehabilitation for those who have tested positive

a.     These penalties explicitly included in the current policy specifically target those of lower socioeconomic status.

b.     The penalty does NOT fit the crime. We don’t want rampant marijuana use on campus; we also don’t see how jeopardizing a student’s ability to stay at Davidson is a fair response to a victimless crime.

*Criteria for Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing (p. 26) : 

Irritability, loss of temper, poor motivation, failure to follow directions, verbal outburst, late for practice, not attending class, physical outburst (e.g. throwing equipment), weight gain, weight loss, staying up too late, late for class, receiving poor grades, emotional outburst (e.g. crying), missing/ skipping meals, sloppy hygiene and/ or appearance, missing appointments, dilated pupils, constricted pupils, red eyes, smell of alcohol on breath, smell of marijuana, staggering or difficulty walking, over stimulated or “hyper,” excessive talking, withdrawn and/ or less communicative, periods of memory loss, slurred speech, constantly running and/or red nose, recurrent bouts with a cold or flu, recurrent motor vehicle accidents and/ or violations, recurrent violations of the Student Code of Conduct Policy

**A previous version of this article released an outdated version of the athletic department budget. The article has been updated to omit this source. (10/29/2020)