Multiple incidents and complaints shorten the organization’s patience.
By Kyle R. Cotton
The Methodist Student Center has been troubled by smokers since the Alamo Colleges implemented its “non-smoking campus” policy across the district in fall 2005.
Smokers congregate at the corner of West Dewey and Belknap in front of the Methodist Student Center causing the sidewalk to be blocked.
Alex Ruiz, anthropology sophomore and United Methodist Student Organization president, said the center’s staff is at a breaking point, especially after what he views as an explosion in the smoker population in the last year and a half.
“We’ve had several incidents of disrespectful behavior from the smokers, the most notable of which was an elderly woman in a wheelchair where the smokers refused to get out of the way,” Ruiz said.
Cameo Salazar, business administration freshman and vice president of the student organization, suggested building a fence or wall around the property.
“We obviously don’t want to do that since the policy here is ‘open hearts, open minds,’ but the attitude some of them have is driving people away from the Methodist Student Center and our organization,” Salazar said.
The center hosts multiple weekly events such as lectures, Hot Potato discussions, retreats, Bible study, morning coffee and hospitality.
Ruiz said, “Students have told me that they avoid our center because of the smokers.”
Ruiz, who was a student at this college before the implementation of the no-smoking policy, said people used to smoke at the intersection on the west side of Belknap by Bennett Music Hall.
“The walkway over there has hardly any traffic, so it would be an ideal place for a designated smoking area since it would be out of the way,” Ruiz said.
“I’ve talked to anyone who would listen: Student Government Association, student life and President Robert Vela, but they either can’t or won’t do anything about the situation,” he said.
Ruiz and Salazar said some of the center’s staff members and even campus police smoke with the students on the corner.
They added some college district police tell the students the San Antonio Police could not prohibit smoking there, despite a sign posted in front of the building stating the text of San Antonio City Ordinance No. #97895: “Indoor and outdoor smoking, loitering, soliciting are prohibited.”
Ruiz said, “We’ve talked with SAPD on multiple occasions, and they told us that they could ticket the smokers for violating city ordinance by blocking the sidewalk.”
He added, “We feel disrespected by some of the smokers, and they have taken advantage of our hospitality by leaving messes inside and outside our center.”
For example, an individual walked into the center, passed two “no smoking” signs, and lit a cigarette in the middle of the center.
When the individual was confronted, he said, “I thought this was the designated smoking area.”
Ruiz said, “I know that not all smokers have this attitude problem; in fact, many of them try to police themselves, but they can only do so much.”
Salazar said they have asked district police and the college for help. “It’s two feet off campus; it’s not that difficult to walk across the street and tell them to disperse,” she said.
Some of the regular visitors to the “smokers’ corner” said they feel as if a designated smoking area would alleviate some of the problems.
One smoker, who asked to be identified as Sparks, said, “The green house that they don’t use can be converted into a smokers’ area that the smoking students would have to take care of.”
Sparks elaborated on the history of “smokers’ corner.” “The messed up part about this is we tried to get a group together to try and do this, and were in contact with student council, and they wanted to put a pot (for cigarette butts) out here, and I think there was one, but somebody stole it.”
He said, “I understand why they wouldn’t want smokers on their property,” relating the incident in which a smoker’s cigarette butt caught one of the Methodist Student Center’s trees on fire.
He continued: “The smokers here are a close-knit group, as much as people hate to admit it. Being a smoker, you tend to be sociable.”
Jessica Foster, marine biology freshman agreed.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how many people we’ve met out here that we’ve become friends with,” she said.
When asked about SAPD responding to complaints about blocking the sidewalk, the smokers said the police come out usually once a week, but get upset at the Methodist Student Center because, as Foster said, “There is nothing they can do about it.”
Rev. Johnny Silva, director of the Methodist Student Center, said, “We call the police, but usually by the time they get here, the violating students have already dispersed.”
Criminal justice sophomore Brandi Towey said, “Usually, when they come by, we are following the rules, doing what we are supposed to do.”
Towey added, “There are a few stragglers who don’t know what to do, and we try to tell them, but we can’t catch every single one of them.”
Some smokers said while they would appreciate a designated area for smokers, those who break the rules would likely persist and refuse to pick up their trash, leaving butts and cigarette packaging in their wake.
For more on the center, call Silva at 210-733-1441 or visit it at 102 Belknap Place.