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April 4, 2004 - Worcester Magazine (MA)

Crackdown At Clark

The Heat's on Student Drug Dealers After a Freshman Fatality

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

By Noah Schaffer and Larry Traiger (Note: Larry Traiger is a Clark student who reported The Scarlet story on student searches. Interviews he conducted were used for this story.)

On the morning of Wednesday, March 17, Clark University student Sean Hurley opened his dorm room door, looking for his girlfriend's shoe. He didn't find it, but he found two other shoes. Standing in them was a Clark police officer. Hurley, informed that college police Chief Stephen Goulet wanted to speak with him, was immediately escorted to the university police station.

Hurley's story is that the Clark police chief informed him that more than one source said he deals in drugs. "I denied it, of course," says Hurley, "but he kept questioning me. He's like, 'Tell me who does.' It was like an official police investigation; one dude with a gun, another dude had paper just taking down everything I said."

Hurley says Goulet and another officer kept pressuring him to give up a name of a drug dealer on campus. Before he was released, Hurley claims, Goulet offered this threat: "He said, 'If you tell anyone you were here, I'm gonna come at you with both barrels.' "

That same day, Clark police conducted two other raids in the same dorm, searching the rooms of two other students. Again according to student accounts, one was found with five eighths (five packages each of one-eighth of an ounce) of marijuana, rolling paper and other paraphernalia. He's been asked to leave school until next semester.

The drug searches followed by two weeks a student fatality in the same dorm where the raids occurred. Clark freshman Michele Bash had been found dead in her Johnson Hall dorm room, apparently from a drug overdose. Shortly afterward, her grieving parents struck out at the school, questioning how well Clark prevents student access to drugs.

Some Clark administrators insist efforts to control drug traffic on campus is nothing new, pointing to drug awareness programs dating back years. What's obviously new, however, or at least highly unusual, is the aggressive increase in raids on student rooms.

Two administration sources, declining to be named, say officials are widely split over the way the school is handling campus drug activity in the wake of Bash's death. Some are protesting the raids against students in their dorm rooms. But the Clark administration acknowledges an elevated occurrence of such raids but denies such controversy. The reason for the seeming crackdown, several officials say, is the effect of Bash's overdose on other students, who are now approaching administrators to name those they suspect of dealing.

Clark has rarely, if ever, had to deal with a student death from an apparent overdose. The trauma is prompting students, faculty and officials to re-examine the school's policies and controls over campus drug traffic. Nearly every student you talk to says marijuana is ubiquitous (When the question was posed last week, two or three repeated the same phrase: "Everybody does it.")

Tougher to determine is the level of use and availability of other drugs - on campus, at least; anecdotally, there's little question that heroin and other substances are easily found no more than blocks away, in the Main South neighborhood adjacent to the Clark campus.

The question remains as to exactly what killed Bash. Hints of her mindset can be found on her LiveJournal blog diary; eerily, it can still be found on the Internet.

December 17, 2003: I may be hiding things, but I've never felt more in touch with who I am than right now .... I'd like to say this semester has been great and I've come away with a great new perspective on life, but I'd be lying. I've made some good choices and a lot of bad ones but it's all helped me in the end. What I have learned is:

  • You'll never know what an experience is like until you go through it yourself.
  • You can't be reckless with yourself because you're all that you have.
  • Even when you think you're beyond help, everyone else is just as fucked up as you.
  • College doesn't mean you're really an adult.
  • Not going to class essentially means failing the class.
  • We all have a lot of growing up to do.

So, in the end I've met a lot of cool people and some not-so-cool people and I think I've experienced more in this short amount of time than I ever could have thought possible .... I hope everyone has a good break. I know I'll try. To those I've hurt or scared at any point, I'm truly sorry. I love you.

After officials finished a second search of Beare's room, he and another student were escorted to the University Police station and separated for questioning. "When I was on my way to the police station, the officer told me this was all going down because of that girl who died," Beare now says. "He made it explicit to me that it was known that it was definitely drug-induced."

Beare says that Clark Dean of Students Denise Darrigrand was at the Campus Police station when he arrived. He adds that she told him that students had claimed "if you wanted to get anything on campus they could come to either Dave or [redacted]."

According to Beare, "They think [redacted] is the biggest dealer on campus and he had less than an once of marijuana on him. If [redacted] is the biggest dealer on campus, then Clark has a pretty small marijuana problem. Their informant was obviously flawed. I know for a fact as [redacted]'s friend and roommate that he has nothing to do with the distribution of hard drugs."

We may not know what evidence Clark has collected regarding any individual's illicit activities, but it can be stated with some confidence that there's been a change in the student culture. The death of a peer demonstrates the danger of drugs, bringing it home more powerfully than all the public-service messages in the world. Students who would never have thought about dropping a dime on someone who's dealing are now coming to the administration with names.

Since Bash's death, the administration seems to be changing its tactics as well. Students contend the days of turning a blind eye to the use of recreational substances is over; the university contends those days never existed. "I have been very up-front in terms of saying that there is probably more information flowing on this campus right now than there ever has been in the whole time that I've been here. Is that in response [to Bash's death]? I'm not sure," says Dean Darrigrand. "In my time here, I've never had as much information coming forth in terms of who is doing what. Students here ask if we are doing things differently than in the past and I've said no, we're not doing anything differently; we're still responding in the same way, but there has been more information."

[redacted], the student who was asked to leave, remembers when he was searched. "I was in my room watching Cocktail with Tom Cruise ... when I heard a knock on the door," he says. "I open the door and I see two representatives from the Dean of Students' Office, as well as two police officers and the police chief."

An officer asked [redacted] if they could come in, which he allowed them to do. [redacted] was then given a form to sign for consent-of-search. "I asked them if they were still going to search the room whether or not I signed the form," says [redacted], "They said they had the right to and so I signed it and they began to search." (In fact, housing contracts signed by students clearly state the university has the right to enter dorm rooms if behavior contrary to its code of conduct is suspected.)

According to a letter [redacted] was given by Darrigrand, the university officials discovered illegal drugs, paraphernalia and "items that led them to conclude" that [redacted] was distributing the drugs. "They found three pipes and two water pipes," [redacted] contends. "They found two packets of rolling papers ... empty cigar tubes as well as bags filled with blunt guts. And they found five eighths of marijuana, individually bagged.

"I was sitting out in the common room and as soon as they found the five bags," [redacted] continues, "I heard the police officer say out, in a very confident and gleeful tone, 'Bingo.' "

[redacted] says he doesn't deal drugs and that he had just picked up some marijuana for himself and three friends. He later mentions that the university officials discovered a scale, which [redacted] says he borrowed from a friend to divvy up the marijuana. "I am a pot-smoker," says [redacted]. "It's been a big part of what I do for the past four years. Friends ask me to get them some when I get some for myself and that's that."

Asked if there had been an increase in drug raids, Chief Goulet says that "as always, we react to what we consider to be good information about illegal activity. In this particular instance this was a reaction to just that."

On the issue of whether the students were asked to provide the names of other students, Goulet says "I would ask that all students cooperate when an investigation is taking place, and information is being sought."

Goulet says that the administration is constantly "discussing the most efficient way [to deal with drugs]. I can't speak for everyone in the administration. I can tell you that ... it is thought out in the manner most appropriate for the safety and protection of students."

Did Bash die through the use harder drugs, as has been indicated? An account in the Telegram & Gazette, written by reporter Emilie Astell, indicates that Bash's boyfriend, freshmen student Matthew Book, thought Bash was using heroin the night she was found dead. John Cronin, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Chief Medical Examiner's Office, says determination of the cause of death is "pending toxicology reports" and that lab tests won't be available for another six weeks. Among the students familiar with Bash and Book, there is disagreement as to whether the girl would have had access to heroin on campus, or would have had to seek it in Main South. A number of students contend that heroin is available on campus, but one believes that what Bash is suspected of taking was "too pure" to have been obtained on campus.

(Also, Astell reported that "Campus police found two empty bottles that had contained medications for Emily Bash [that's the name of Michelle's mother] in the back of a drawer in the dorm room. One bottle was for the tranquilizer Clonazepam in 0.5 milligram tablets and the other held the anticonvulsant drug Neurontin in 100 milligram tablets." Neurontin is commonly used to treat bipolar disorder.)

Asked about drug use at Clark, Dean Darrigrand says, "I don't think there are very many college campuses that are immune from drugs being present, so it is not something that we can close our eyes to and we don't. Do we have a huge problem? I don't think so. Clark is a very close community and the fact we know as much as we do about the drug culture at Clark speaks a lot to how close we are, how students feel and how willing they are to share information and take care of each other. People here are very mindful of watching out for each other to a large extent. People feel that the resources are here and that we are approachable."

Bash's parents, Daniel and Emily, have come right at the college, charging it with at least some responsibility for their daughter's death. Another question is, is that how to supervise the young adults who leave their homes to come to college?

In her story several weeks ago, Astell quoted Daniel Bash as saying, "My concern is that the college lets 18- and 19-year-olds live in a dorm without any knowledge whatsoever of what they are doing; if they are drinking, taking drugs or in some way causing bodily harm to themselves."

His position remains consistent. Reached at their home in Queens, N.Y., Daniel and Emily Bash responded with this statement by e-mail: "All we can say at this time is that we are profoundly grieving the death of our beloved daughter. We are concerned about the students at Clark and lack of adequate supervision. Our daughter, Michele, was a wonderful young woman with so much life and ambition in her. She was very intelligent and had many great plans for herself. Our grief is inestimable."

The Telegram story was not well-received on campus, according to Scott Zoback, editor of The Scarlet student newspaper. "Especially if you just read the lead, it portrayed Clark as this awful place where everyone is doing drugs," he says. "People thought it was very harsh. The interview with the parents put the responsibility on the university. But it's not the university's responsibility to be watching over us all the time."

Michele's online diaries are full of the curiosity and confusion that any adolescent faces when they are put in a new, unfamiliar situation full of both opportunity and the potential for disappointment. (Bash admitted to spending more time writing blog entries than term papers.) There are lengthy passages questioning life, and brief homages to the emo rock bands Bash loved and often saw in concert.

Nov. 9 10:48 a.m.

What I've learned this weekend:

  • Drinking in moderation is something I have trouble with.
  • Alkaline Trio do rock is Skiba is so THE man.
  • Drugs and alcohol do not mix.
  • I'm sure there were other things, but these are the highlights that come to mind and I haven't slept since yesterday and must get a nap now before I start on the massive amount of film homework that awaits me.

Darrigrand says that when her staff senses a student is in trouble, they evaluate the situation based on the particulars of the case. "There is no 'usual' approach. It always depends on the individual situation," she says, adding that the school has partnered with outside agencies, including AdCare Hospital, to assist it when events warrant.

"We're an educational [institution], not a rehabilitative agency," she says. "The outside agencies have been very helpful in joining in partnership with us. Certainly, when situations are serious, we involve parents in appropriate ways, and at Clark we feel very strongly about putting the student first and having them be the primary client. When a student is in deep difficulty, when we know they are in difficulty, it is important to go to whatever resource makes sense and that includes parents as well."

The nature of Darrigrand's job is such that she also has to discipline students when appropriate. A report by Clark police lists dramatic increases of "arrests or referrals for disciplinary action" in recent years, from 17 alleged drug problems in 2000 to 56 in 2002, a substantial increase in the relatively small community that is Clark.

Zoback doesn't think drugs are more out of hand at Clark than they are elsewhere. "I'd say we have as much here as any other campus has," he says. "They have not been a factor in my experience here. I'm sure drug use is a big part of the experience for some students, but I definitely don't think that it is the overwhelming or prevalent thing on campus."

When Beare was charged with possession of alcohol and illicit drugs, his mother was called, something he says he was told by Darrigrand was appropriate under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Take it for what it's worth, but his story confirms that the administration has changed its tactics since the death of Bash. "When [Darrigrand] understood they weren't going after the right guy, she apologized for 'stepping on my toes,' but said it was necessary because this was such a 'crazy situation,' " he says. "I didn't feel like I was being treated as a serious student; more as just some drug-dealing criminal who needs to be exterminated immediately regardless of the facts."

As reported last week in the Clark student newspaper The Scarlet, Beare says he set up an appointment with Darrigrand on March 18 to complain about the way his situation was handled. In his account, Darrigrand seemed very upset about what had happened to Michele Bash and concerned about the drugs on campus. "She mentioned Michele Bash in the context [that Clark officials had] been trying to crack down all year," says Beare, "but because of Michele's death they were sort of going all out."

Beare adds that when he told Derigrand he felt like no one cared, she started to shake, pointed at him, and said, "Don't tell me I don't care about my students, I love my students."

"I said, 'Denise, I know you do,' " said Beare, " 'The way you're making me feel is that you don't care.' "

Darrigrand declines to respond to the comments made by Beare or [redacted] to The Scarlet. Chief Goulet of the Clark police refers all questions to Clark's Public Affairs Office.

What Darrigrand will say is that the school draws sharp distinctions between pot and "hard drugs," and between students who appear to be dealing, not just using, drugs. "We've never known of anyone who has died from overusing pot," she says. "It is hard to say that about any other drug. In terms of use versus distribution, there is a distinction in terms of the activity surrounding it. Distribution brings in elements that don't belong here. I've seen too many circumstances where people have been innocently hurt by the activity that is surrounding drug distribution. Word gets out that people are dealing drugs and you have someone at your door you don't know, or someone who is coming in to get drugs who doesn't want to pay for them and will find other ways of obtaining the drugs. Distribution or sale brings with it a totally different element of risk to the campus."

Zoback says that the school needs to be find a middle ground between barging into rooms and turning a blind eye when information comes its way. "The searches are perfectly within the school's rights," he says, "whether or not they are related to Bash. Whether they are finding what they are looking for is irrelevant. Enforcing drug policy is a hard thing. You try for prevention, but if you hear about something, you have to go after it."

There has been talk among students of drug tests administered to Book and other students in Johnson Hall, where Bash lived and died. The T&G article mentioned a discussion between Bash and her parents over students figuring out how to evade a drug test. However, Darrigrand says the school never administers drug tests to students, an observation confirmed by a high-ranking school official, speaking off the record. Another member of the Clark administration surmises that Bash at least may have been tested by an outside provider at the behest of her parents, who reportedly learned she might be using drugs by reading her blog diary.

In the wake of Bash's needless death, it is certain that students at Clark will be thinking hard about issues surrounding drugs in the future. "I think we are having a good dialogue," says Darrigrand. "Like any community in a crisis - and you don't have to look hard to see other colleges that have been in crisis lately - it is an opportunity to stop and take a look at ourselves and our responsibilities, about how we interact with each other, about what our values are, what we hold dear and what weakens us. There are some very tough issues. If I'm a student and I see another student engaging in behavior that I think is problematic, what do I do with that? How do I address that? What does being a member of a community mean?"

From Michele Bash's online diary:

Nov. 16, 2003 ... I hate hypocrites, therefore I hate myself, but I'm talking about the people who say they are so concerned about me yet do the same exact things to an even greater degree .... I'm sick of people thinking they know me so well; you don't know jack shit about me and you probably never will.

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