College makes up some of the best years of a person's life. It’s a place to discover oneself, create long-lasting friendships and eventually begin their future, but when that time is cut short, everything changes.
“It all felt just kind of unreal...the fact that I was kicked off campus immediately,” said Greta Ahern, a former student at the University who was expelled for distribution of marijuana. “I was trying to just roll with the punches.”
Ahern was a sophomore at Saint Peter’s University when a Snapchat post sent her world crashing down -- a simple mistake cost her her education, freedom and reputation. It was October 22, 2018 when Campus Safety came knocking on her door.
“Campus Safety came to my room and told me to wait outside the room. They went through everything, made a huge mess of everything. They went inside my backpack and that’s when they found the bag [of marijuana],” said Ahern.
Because the school had evidence linking Ahern to the crime of distributing marijuana, they were able to search through everything, meaning her backpack was not off limits.
According to Dean Erin McCann, there are only a few crimes that will get a student expelled from the University and distribution falls on that list.
“This is an educational institute. I have a couples of rules, you know, if you’re selling marijuana, if you do anything in the realms of sexual harassment, sexual assault or if you touch, put your hands on somebody, then we have a problem,” said McCann.
McCann says these offenses usually always end in expulsion from the University.
Since marijuana is illegal, the school does not permit any non-regulated distribution of the drug. McCann says it is not safe for students and could result in many issues.
“Marijuana is not only illegal but we’ve had incidents in the past where students have gone to the hospital for marijuana that may be laced or tainted,”said McCann. “Any time you’re selling some sort of substance that is not regulated, you’re taking a chance, not only with your education, but you’re taking a chance with other people’s lives. For me that’s a no brainer.”
When this happens, McCann is required to break the bad news.
“That is a horrifying experience. I have to call somebody’s parent in the middle of the night and say ‘Hey your daughter’s in the hospital, your son’s in the hospital. They had a reaction to marijuana’... and then when I find out that one of our students sold it, that’s a no exception rule, and it is, it’s illegal,” said McCann.
Although the sanctions for distribution is non-negotiable, in most cases, students are given a chance to redeem themselves. After speaking with several students, it was revealed that most offenses result in community service hours.
Shanya Michel, a junior at SPU, was recently involved in an incident related to marijuana and alcohol.
On March 1, 2019, she was caught hosting a party in her dorm room. A Snapchat post was seen by Campus Safety, which resulted in her room being raided. During this, Campus Safety and RA’s discovered empty liquor bottles and an abundance of marijuana.
“I was given 25 hours of community service hours and I am not allowed to sign guests in for the rest of the semester,” said Michel.
Another junior, Gail Steward had a similar story to tell.
Her incident occurred during the first semester of her freshman year in Fall 2017. She was caught with alcohol and with allowing another student to use her ID to enter a school building without permission. She was given community service hours and put on disciplinary probation.
“I think they’re pretty logical for their punishments. I feel like they are understanding in that college students are college students,” said Steward. “They are definitely not the worst punishments compared to other schools. I think my punishment fit my charges cause all I got was community service.”
For both students, it was their first offense, but this is often the case for students who have multiple offenses.
Clarissa Tirado, a 2019 graduate of Saint Peter’s, has had many offenses during her time at the school. The incidents revolved around smoking in the dorm and having alcohol and marijuana.
She was still able to reside on campus for the duration of her time at Saint Peter’s and has never received a punishment worse than community service hours or being put on disciplinary probation.
“I think they’re pretty fair considering the amount of hours they give,” said Tirado. “Sometimes the offense isn’t that serious and they give you minimal hours, but when an offense is more serious they give you hours and probation, and that’s what fair about it.”
“I mean in general they don’t have to give you any hours they can realistically just kick you out of school,” said Tirado.
Because Saint Peter’s is a Jesuit University, it promotes rehabilitation and allows students to learn from most offenses they encounter.
After comparing Saint Peter’s University to other Jesuit Universities in the surrounding areas, the reported data shows the crime report rates are similar across the board. Jesuit Universities such as Le Moyne, Fordham and Canisius all share similar reports with SPU. According to these reports, Jesuit Universities do not have a lot of drug and alcohol offenses that they give account of.
“The sanctions here aren’t designed to derail your educational journey,” said McCann. “They’re just kind of designed to give you an opportunity to reflect on a behavior or a particular infraction and how you can either avoid that or know how it affects other people”
Tirado is not the only student who has had multiple offenses and was still able to continue their time at Saint Peter’s.
Justin Connors, a senior at the University, had a different story to tell.
After being involved in five incidents with Campus Safety, he is currently residing on campus, but not after facing some consequences.
Connors was given a one year suspension from campus when he was involved in too many incidents. He says the one that finally got him kicked out was related to alcohol charges.
“They are way too harsh on students. They target kids,” said Connors.
Although there is no evidence to support Connors claim, McCann also believes that the University is strict.
“I think that in terms of what we give students there’s two things. The first is you know...we have a sanction guide so each individual issue is sanctioned appropriately in terms of what our sanction guide is,” said McCann. “This is probably one of the stricter schools I’ve worked at.”
All the appropriate sanctions are found directly through the schools website under the search “Code of Conduct.” Here, a student can find all of the rules and regulations regarding the schools sanctions and judicial process.
So, where does this leave students like Ahern who fall into the expulsion category? Well, like McCann says the University’s goal is not to derail someone’s education, but in Ahern’s case, that is exactly what happened.
“[My expulsion] made everything a lot harder. I’m going to do a summer course because I don’t want to fall behind. I’m trying to get as many credits as I can,” said Ahern. “It impacted my life pretty drastically because at Saint Peter’s I was enrolled in the five year program. Now I have to worry about which schools are going to accept me and I wasted a lot of money.”
For Ahern, the path to education was not so simple.
After spending some time at Brookdale Community College, Ahern was able to bring her GPA up by doing extra credit in her classes, which allowed her to further her education. She is currently a double major in Communication and Political Science enrolled at Montclair, but reminisces about her past experiences at SPU.
“It just feels weird to not be able to go to my old school anymore because I’m a restricted person on campus. It’s all just really weird and still unreal,” said Ahern.
Because Ahern was expelled from the University for distribution, she was also placed on the restricted persons list meaning that she is not allowed on campus and if found on campus, the University will contact the police. Ahern does not let this deter her from her future endeavors. She is working on getting back on track.
“I’m happy to be at Montclair and am working on keeping my GPA up, but my experience at Saint Peter’s will always have an impact on me,” said Ahern.