Students roll over rules
'Taste of freedom' comes with rule breaking
October 25, 2007 7:29 PM
Adhering to the adage that rules are made to be broken, SF State students routinely bend the regulations when it comes to campus conduct. But aside from the drinking and drug regulations notoriously pushed at college campuses, the main offenders tend to be those engaging in everyday activities not commonly viewed as unlawful.
Some obvious rules such as smoking marijuana or drinking under the age of 21 reflect national laws, leaving little leeway for students not to acknowledge them. But it’s the other, everyday behavior rules specific to SF State —banning biking, skateboarding, and smoking in the non-designated areas—that may catch students off guard.
Although police records show that nights and weekends keep campus police busy cracking down on underage drinking and noise complaints, weekdays they spend much time enforcing university regulations. Since the start of the semester 28 citations for skateboarding have been recorded, 12 for smoking, and 48 for jaywalkers, according to University Police officer Pat Wasley.
While the breaking of these rules may seem trivial, University Chief of Police Kirk Gaston argues that there are important reasons why they’re in place.
“It all has an impact on people’s safety and quality of life,” he said.
Wasley acknowledged that the police can’t hand out citations to rule breakers because calls must be prioritized.
“You do what you can with staff you have on hand,” Wasley said of the 38-member force.
Although the city of San Francisco prides itself on using alternative, non-polluting forms of transportation like bicycles and skateboards, SF State prefers students leave those items locked up while at school.
The narrow walkways on SF State’s small campus aren’t conducive to bicyclists and skateboarders, Gaston said, adding that skateboarders might injure people walking in the packed campus paths or exiting from buildings. The school could be liable for any such injuries.
He said that some of the skateboarders perform tricks that damage the school’s railings.
Gaston said the University Police Department (UPD) is stringent on the anti-skateboarding policy and regularly issues citations and confiscates boards. Citations for both skateboarding and bicycling cost between $100 and $150. Currently, a pile of confiscated skateboards is sitting in the police station office that will not be returned to the owners until they go through the appropriate court process.
But police records show that most students found breaking skateboarding rules get away with a simple warning. From the beginning of September until last week, only three skateboarders were cited out of the 22 reported violators. Some regular skateboarders said they skate around the entire campus and never get in trouble for it.
One skateboarder, Mandeep Sethi, 18, said that he hasn’t personally been cited for skateboarding but he has seen others cited. Sethi said while he acknowledges the possibility that a skateboard could hurt someone at SF State’s compact campus, he disagrees with the policy.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “In 2007 they still fail to understand that skateboarding is a means of transportation.”
While Gaston said they’ve been issuing citations for skateboarding, an officer who asked not to be named said citing cyclists is often unnecessary.
“ As soon as they see us, they get off their bikes,” he said. “Most of the time.”
The officer emphasized that riding them on SF State’s campus is “ dangerous and inconsiderate.” Earlier this semester, a student was injured when she was hit by a cyclist near Burk Hall. The officer said the student suffered a broken nose and a shoulder injury because the cyclist was on his cell phone and not paying attention.
Students placing bikes on the railings is another problem, Gaston said. Students with disabilities, especially impaired vision, need the railings. Gaston said if there were an on-campus emergency that would be a catastrophe for these students.
Aside from personal transportation offenses, SF State also has had a fairly restrictive smoking policy in place since the fall 2004 semester. It states that smoking is prohibited on campus except for the nine designated areas marked with purple signs along the perimeter of the campus. At this point, the officers have only been issuing warnings for smokers that aren’t smoking in the designated areas, even though the UPD frequently receives calls of complaints about smoking.
Some areas are more susceptible to getting smoke than others and the smoke regularly comes into classrooms and offices on campus. “Wind drafts take it right into a building and some people are very sensitive to that,” Gaston said.
Some who have heard of the smoking policy said they do not know where to find a designated area. Others feel inconvenienced or offended by the policy and willfully ignore it.
“It’s inconvenient to walk all the way off campus when I have a 10 minute break in between classes,” said Matthew Morgan, a politics and philosophy major smoking behind the closed Franciscan building near the library. Morgan, 19, said he was a new student who did not know about the designated areas, but he would likely not use them.
One student smoking in a designated area on Holloway Avenue, behind the library and fewer than 100 feet away from where Morgan and others stood, disagreed. “The campus isn’t that big,” says Matthew Chevedden, 22. The philosophy student said he found the bench with the salmon-colored ashtrays by following the purple square signs that direct with arrows.
Bridget McCracken, chair of the student affairs committee and member of the campus’ smoking task force, said some students have been ripping down the designated smoking signs or spraying graffiti on them and said that often smoking is worst at the beginning of the semester because it takes people a while to learn where the designated areas are.
But McCracken acknowledged that the new policy has been a step in the direction they wanted to be going.
“We’ve come a long way from not having a policy at all,” she said.
Another commonly broken rule on campus that could have a more immediate effect on student well-being is jaywalking. Gaston said illegally crossing the dangerous 19th and Holloway happens often, with people most frequently darting across 19th by the East side of Hensill Hall.
“It’s scary to watch people that do that,” Gaston said. “That’s a fatality waiting to happen.”
In the on-campus dorms and apartments, Judicial Coordinator Patrick McFall said the three most common policy violations are loud noise, underage drinking and marijuana use--which seems to be particularly low this year, he said.
Freshmen are often the ones most likely to bend the rules, McFall said, because of that “fresh taste of freedom.”
“It’s natural that students are going to test the system to see where the boundaries are,” McFall said. In reference to the lengthy lease resident students must sign, McFall pointed out that students are informed about all of SF State’s policies before they even move on campus.
The punishment for certain behaviors varies by violation. Noise complaints often illicit a visit from the cops and a warning. More serious offenses, like being in possession of drugs or dealing them, can get students kicked out.
An accurate number of on-campus housing violations was not immediately known because student housing records are not recorded at the county level.
“What happens in housing stays in housing,” McFall said.
As an extra preventative measure this semester, SF State adopted a three-hour online program already offered at numerous universities across the country. The program seeks to inform incoming freshmen about polices and facts related to alcohol.
“What people see as little things end up cumulating into a big thing,” Gaston said of all the rules broken on campus each day.
Additional reporting by Adam Loraine, staff writer
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