CU gets high and mighty with a pot-smoking RA
On the evening of August 12, Jeremy Hartman was in his dorm room at the University of Colorado assembling collages for four bulletin boards he was supposed to put together as part of his new job as a resident advisor. RA training had started a few days earlier, two weeks before the fall semester began, and Hartman had spent most of this day listening to lectures on subjects like fire safety and how to help struggling students.
It was "exhausting, mind-numbing crap," he says.
Another training session had focused on alcohol and drugs, which are forbidden in the dorms. Hartman says it included passing around confiscated pot paraphernalia.
While he was building the collages, two female RAs stopped by his dorm room. They talked about the paraphernalia lesson, he says, and asked if he smoked pot.
"I was stupid. I didn't deny it," says Hartman, a nineteen-year-old sophomore who is majoring in international affairs. "I said I'd been around the block."
The girls said their goal was to get high on the roof of the dorm before the end of the year, he says, and they asked him if he'd want to come along. One of the RAs said it'd be her first time. Hartman said he would. "I just jumped in their trap," he says.
Two days later, Hartman says, Jake Kasper, the director of Cheyenne Arapaho Hall, called Hartman into his office and explained that the two female RAs had smelled weed coming from his room. He also listed other complaints, including one about a joke Hartman had told about another RA's "promise ring." He'd asked the male RA, "Didn't you ever consider test-driving a car before you buy it?" — a joke he says he heard on Comedy Central. But apparently, some other RAs didn't think it was funny.
"They didn't like me," Hartman says of his former co-workers. "They were uptight, hard-core Christians. They knew I was going to be too easy."
Kasper and the two RAs declined to be interviewed for this story.
Hartman denied that he was toking up and says he gave up ganja to get the RA job. But he was nevertheless hauled before Yadeira Adams, a coordinator for CU's Housing and Dining Services, which oversees the dorms and their employees.
Hartman made his case and pointed out that it was his word against that of the two RAs. But even without physical evidence, Adams ruled against him. "Although you claimed to not have been smoking, it is my inclination to believe the instinct and experience of returning staff members who smelled the marijuana in your room and on the floor," she wrote. "Logically, you would have to be the person causing the smell, since there were no other people living on your floor at the time of this incident."
Hartman was fired from his RA position and forced to move out of the dorm (he slept on a friend's couch for a while before renting a room in an apartment). He was also placed on university probation for a semester, CU's lowest judicial sanction, and instructed to complete five hours of community service at a nonprofit of his choice.
In addition, Adams told him to write a five-page paper addressing "the relationship between marijuana and academics" and describing how it has affected his CU experience.
University spokesman Bronson Hilliard says reflection papers are common sanctions. "We're not just trying to punish students for what they do wrong," Hilliard says. "We're trying to get them to reflect upon what it takes to be part of a learning community and to kind of understand where they end and the rest of the world begins."
Hartman doesn't see it like that at all.
"It's like a kangaroo court. They just railroad people," says Hartman, who has thus far refused to write the paper. "They're asking for confessions. That's pretty wild."
Even worse, however, Hartman was also banned from setting foot in Cheyenne Arapaho — a rule he violated on October 7 when he was asked to deliver a pizza to the dorm as part of his new job as a driver for Papa Romano's pizza shop in Boulder.
Hartman says he tried calling the freshman who'd ordered the pizza to ask him to meet him at the doors, but he didn't answer. The dorm was locked, but there were some residents smoking outside, and Hartman says one of them let him in. Once inside, he ran into one of the two female RAs. He says he confronted her and she denied ratting him out, saying she had a stuffy nose that week and wouldn't have been able to smell anything. She "got pissed," Hartman says, and called the cops after he left.
The police showed up at Papa Romano's a short time later and issued Hartman a warning for "unlawful conduct on public property."
At the time, Hartman had already penned an appeal protesting his punishment and was waiting to hear back from CU officials about whether his case would be overturned.
"I hope you will perceive the gross injustices befalling me and will remedy them," he wrote in the letter, in which he also volunteered to take a drug test.
Housing and Dining Services informed him that his letter had been forwarded to CU's Office of Judicial Affairs, which usually handles drug infractions. But since Hartman hadn't received a penalty, just probation, he was told that he couldn't appeal.
Representatives of both departments declined to talk about the story, referring all calls to Hilliard, who said he can't discuss specifics. In general, however, "with a student employee, if we suspect them of conduct that goes against the rules and responsibilities we outline to them in crystal clarity, we can let them go in the same way you're let go from any other job," he says.
The employee can also be sanctioned. The standards for judicial sanctions at CU are much lower than in a regular court, Hilliard says — something that's explained to all students, and especially RAs. In a case where the stench of marijuana is wafting from someone's room, he says, "you don't need a CSI investigation...to have a culprit."
Hartman insists he's not looking for a CSI investigation — just a chance to prove that he wasn't smoking that night. "I pay a lot of money to go to this school, and they're treating me like I'm a bum. The university just thinks they're God, and they don't care."
Hartman, who grew up in Lakewood, applied for the RA job for the free room and board. Since he's paying for college himself, he was looking for ways to cut down on expenses. Plus, his freshman-year RA impressed him, and he wanted to follow in his footsteps. "He was relaxed," Hartman says. "He didn't get anyone in trouble."
One time, Hartman recalls, he and some friends were smoking a joint in a tree near their dorm when the RA walked by. Instead of reporting them, he says, the RA took a hit off the joint and kept walking. "I wanted to give people an opportunity to have a fun year," Hartman says of his motivation to be an RA, "not be a Nazi on their tail."
In the meantime, Hartman is still working at Papa Romano's and he's resumed smoking pot. In fact, he's applied to the state for a medical marijuana card because he says he has lingering pain from ACL surgery he had in 2007 after hitting a tree while snowboarding.
"It's a drug. It's fun. It's like you get high, and I enjoy getting high," he explains. "I get really motivated. I can't sleep (when I'm high); I have to do stuff, like write essays or clean or play pool or skateboard or snowboard. It makes me really active."
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"It's like a kangaroo court. They just railroad people. They're asking for confessions. That's pretty wild."
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