In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month and emphasizing the importance of being prepared for a professional world, LaGuardia Community College (LAGCC) welcomed Angie Cruz on October 31st in the E-building’s Poolside Café. Ms. Cruz, who previously visited the campus in 2017, is an Associate Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, writer of short stories and […]
How CUNY and FAFSA Handle Drug-Related Offenses in schools such as LaGuardia Community College
As every semester approaches, students eligible for financial aid repeat their application process, as they do every year. Though, those with a recent drug conviction should be aware as it has recently been discovered that The City University of New York (CUNY) and Federal Student Aid sanction students who have had a drug conviction by taking away their financial aid.
Every year, students have to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to get financial aid. When students complete the FAFSA form, they are asked whether they’ve had a drug conviction. If the answer is “yes”, students are then required to fill out a worksheet which will determine whether the conviction affects their eligibility for federal student aid.
Still, CUNY Policy on Drugs and Alcohol, “prohibits the unlawful manufacture, distribution, dispensation, possession, or use of drugs or alcohol by employees, students or visitors, on CUNY property.” If caught doing so, students would be sanctioned by suspension or expulsion from the school. The sanction depends on the offense, the drug type and the drug quantity. Heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, LSD, PCP, marijuana, and some pharmaceutical drugs fall into this category. This policy was adopted by the Board of Trustees in June of 2009.
According to the CUNY website under the Financial Aid section, students who have been convicted of any “…offense under any Federal or State law involving the possession or sale of a controlled substance shall not be eligible to receive any grant, loan, or work assistance.” The ineligibility resulting from a first offense of possession of a controlled substance is one year, two years for a second offense, and for a third, the ineligibility time is indefinite. For the sale of controlled substance, the ineligibility time is two years for a first offense and indefinite for a second offense.
In order to be eligible for Federal Student Aid again, students have to enter and complete a drug rehabilitation program which has to be recognized by a federal, state or local government agency or court. Students also have to pass two unannounced drug tests, or have the conviction reversed, states the CUNY and FAFSA websites.
A Former financial aid adviser and current Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Dr. Ryan Mann-Hamilton says “it is ridiculous” to penalize students for consuming drugs, especially marijuana, which is now legal in many states and is being considered for legalization in New York City. “I do not think students should be penalized for it. People fall into different habits, but you can get out of it,” adds Dr. Mann-Hamilton. “If the purpose is for people to go to school to improve their lives and if they take away their financial aid, then how are they going to do that?”
“There are a lot of students who smoke marijuana around campus and I do not think they should be punished for it,” says Dr. Nichole Marie Shippen, Assistant Professor of the Social Science Department. “I would never agree with taking away financial aid no matter what.” Dr. Shippen believes that instead of having this sanction, there should be some sort of help or counseling from the school to assist students who are addicted to drugs.
Dr. Shippen has seen many Latino and African American people in court who are charged for smoking marijuana. Most students at LaGuardia Community College are minorities who are already the primary targets for arrests and prosecution, these students could then be penalized for a charge that no longer exists in some states.
Jonathan Guaman, a student at LaGuardia, did not know about this policy. However, he believes that students should not be sanctioned for what they do outside of college. He points out that if a student is already addicted to a point where he or she cannot perform well in class, other measures should be taken. “There are many people who want to change their lifestyle when they have done bad things, that is why they come to school to get education and not go back to their bad habits,” says Mr. Guaman.
Meighan Cordero, another student from LaGuardia Community College, didn’t know about the existence of this policy, and opposes it because “it creates an inequality that will disproportionately hurt poor people,” says Ms. Cordero. “Historically, drugs like marijuana have been used to create a legal type of violence against people of color.”
The Customer Support Manager of the Student Financial Services at LaGuardia Community College, Shaundra Comrie, says the policy was introduced [by former US Representative Mark Sauder (R-Ind.)] in 1998, in order to prevent students with drug convictions from receiving government aid. However, during the Bush Administration in 2005, it was reduced to only affect the students who commit the offense while they were receiving the aid.
When Ms. Comrie was asked about how her department deals with students who are caught consuming drugs on campus, she said, “that is not Financial Aid related.” It is security and the college deals with the student who commits the offense on campus. “It won’t affect their financial aid unless they are expelled from LAGCC or any other CUNY college. That is when it becomes Financial Aid related,” she adds. And if that is the case, the Student Financial Service department do not know the reason why the students has been withdrawn. Shaundra Comrie searched the answer of each question on the computer of her office.
The problem with such rules or policies is that students are always going to end on the losing side. What makes it worse, is how difficult is to get information from those who are supposed to be knowledgeable in the subject. For example, an unnamed source from the Student Affairs Liaison/Adjudicator Department, never gave permission to use the information she provided nor had the intention of explaining anything at all. If students who need immediate help in Financial Aid or has to deal with a drug conviction in college, can’t get the advice they need, who or whom are going to tell them where to go?