Keeping pilot area clean key to permanence.
By Kyle R. Cotton
Smokers’ corner has been an issue for the United Methodist Student Center at Belknap and Dewey places since this college adopted its smoking policy in 2005.
Recently President Robert Vela has expressed interest in trying to make a designated smokers area happen.
Vela wants to bring it up to Chancellor Bruce Leslie but said that he has gotten a mixed reception here from students and faculty members, stating some feel like they should stick with the smoking policy while others want to find a resolution.
“We have a policy, and I can’t do anything about that other than asking permission to do some type of pilot to see if it will work for SAC,” Vela said. “Simply ignoring it and hoping it gets better: It’s not going to get better.”
Vela said there isn’t much this college’s police department can do because the corner is not within its jurisdiction.
“I would like to try a pilot for some type of designated area to see if it would work,” Vela said, adding he didn’t know if it would work because it’s “a direct conflict with our policy.”
“I also understand the issues that our neighbors are having and students that walk by there,” he said. “I’m trying to explore options to make it a win-win for everybody.”
A recent survey by the Student Government Association showed of 280 students polled 59 percent supported a designated smokers area.
Survey respondents self-reported as 88 percent non-smokers.
“I’m so glad SGA did this because it is compelling,” Vela said. “This is a yes for a smokers’ area from non-smokers. Fifty percent said yes, 38 percent said no.”
“This is only a sample of 200-plus students, and I realize that, but it’s something for us to at least get a conversation started,” he said.
Vela said he is compelled to try to get special permission for a pilot, feeling that the current ‘well, that’s not our area, good luck’ response from this college isn’t a way to treat its neighbors.
In November, Vela walked with smokers to look at potential areas.
Vela said they looked along Dewey, noting the lack of traffic in the area and the fact the street is part of this college.
“I don’t think it would be to hard to put together with a canopy, picnic tables and the appropriate disposal containers to try and see if that will work,” Vela said. “What’s going to be key … is that they keep it clean and they are respectful to the people around them.
“This is just speculation on my part because I don’t know if I can get a special reprieve on the policy because we don’t want to simply change the no-smoking policy, but maybe at SAC, we need one or two designated areas to keep everybody happy.”
The 2010 master plan for this college shows a green space and an amphitheater planned along that street in its 25-year-long building plan for this college, but a smoker’s area won’t be discussed as a possible addition until after the potential pilot.
“If it works and students show the college that they can be responsible, then we can create something more permanent,” Vela said. “If we want to go permanent, we are going to have to consider all the future master plan ideas so not to interfere with that.”
As for cleanup, the Human Services Club has been helping keep smokers’ corner clean with members of the United Methodist Student Organization calling their efforts a good compromise.
“No doubt and I would love for them to work with our office of civic engagement, so that they can get credit for their volunteerism,” Vela said. “That’s important that they’re volunteering their time and we want to continue that partnership.”
“I also want students in that designated area to be responsible,” he said.
“If they aren’t able to show that they can be responsible and respect their place, I’m not inclined to really move forward with any kind of permanent type solution,” Vela said.
Vela said anytime this issue has been discussed it has focused on respecting all students and making sure at this college that they aren’t deterred from coming or having their learning environment interfered with.
“These are our students and I’m just trying to find some common ground so that we can help support all our students.”
Faculty members and campus police are commonly seen smoking with the students.
Using those members of campus faculty and police who do smoke to help deter some of the littering has already been tried.
Vela said, “We’ve tried that approach several years ago and they’ll listen, but for whatever reason that’s been designated the unofficial smoking corner, and it’s very difficult to change that mindset.”
“We don’t want to come across with our police department simply citing everybody. … Our police force isn’t here to do that,” Vela said. “They need to enforce the policy and the laws, but they use a lot of discretion, understanding that these are students.”
Noting his walk with the smokers, Vela said they were very respectful and just want an area of their own, while noting that vaping is another issue.
Vaping was included in the non-smoking ban last year despite no widely known side effects.
“I think vaping is too new. There are not a lot of research and studies out there,” Vela said.
Vela is set to bring the concern to Leslie at the weekly presidents, vice chancellors and chancellor meeting March 30.