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Kate Fritzsche '10: Stupid decisions have serious consequences - sometimes

How many times have you seen your friends or other students use a fake ID to drink on campus? And how many of those times was your friend punished for his or her decision?
My guess would be that your friends have never been penalized. This is typical around campus, perhaps with good reason. However, in comparison with adults in the rest of the country and especially recent immigrants, college students have it easy. Perhaps, then, it is time to consider why the harsher penalties exist, whether they should and whether we should face the same consequences as everybody else.

When a college student gets a fake ID in order to get into Fish Co. or to buy alcohol illegally, most of us don't bat an eye. The most severe penalty I've heard for being caught using a fake ID was that the ID was confiscated, and then the student just paid someone $20 for a new way to get into bars. But when someone uses false documents in order to get a job in this country, he or she can be fined, detained or even deported.

This dichotomy is obviously problematic. First, the illegal immigrant who needs a job to support his or her family has a more sympathetic purpose for his or her false documents than a college student who just wants to get drunk. A 19-year-old student will be able to drink legally in two years and can easily find parties on campus that don't card in the meantime. A poor immigrant who desperately needs the money to find shelter and buy food cannot wait the way that we can.

One might contest that the disparity in punishments is not discrimination against immigrants, or even poor people who weren't born in hospitals and, as a result, were never given birth certificates. And indeed, the intended purpose of the document is a serious consideration.

But we should acknowledge that issues of necessity and prejudice complicate the question. Poverty and race are factors that often lead to unequal treatment, and the idea that illegal immigrants and poor people should not be allowed to work because of their disadvantaged status is different from the belief that no one should be allowed to use false identification.

A second double standard can be seen in how students are penalized — or rather, are not penalized — on campus for using or possessing drugs. If a college student smoked marijuana outside of a college campus or was caught driving with it in her car, she could be charged like any other adult for drug possession and might face fines, a night in jail or a note on a permanent record. However, if she smoked in her dorm room or even on the Main Green, it's unlikely that she would face any consequences.

In response to this inequity of penalty, one could argue that college students should face the same charges from DPS that any other person would if caught by the local police. Alternatively, one could suggest that the penalties for drug possession are too harsh in the real world, and that they should meet campus non-penalties somewhere in the middle.

Maybe it's good for college students to be excused from severe penalties because many try new things once or twice and don't make it a habit. However, it's important to find a way to make students who regularly engage in illegal activity aware of the seriousness of their decisions. It's a slippery slope toward bigger problems once a student starts using, so we should try to help our friends avoid getting trapped in a situation they can't handle.

Ultimately, we should consider ourselves lucky to get away with mistakes that would have serious consequences outside of our Brown bubble. However, we should also consider why the penalties are what they are and whether they are fair. If it's not so bad for your friend to get a fake ID to drink, maybe you should think twice about the motivation for an immigrant to use false documents to work in this country.

If you believe minor drug charges should result in only moderate penalties and help with finding a way to lessen the addiction, maybe you shouldn't condemn someone who is struggling with addiction and facing serious charges — maybe he deserves help more than anything else. So let's concern ourselves primarily with how to stop our stupid decisions from becoming more serious life choices, and let's keep discussing what the fair penalties outside of Brown should be.

Kate Fritzsche's '10 Maine driver's license looks fake, but she swears it's real.
She can be reached at Katherine_Fritzsche@brown.edu.



 




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