Last week’s cover story, “Higher Ed,” erred in its description of a yearly campus celebration at Reed College of the chemical element nitrogen. The correct title of that event is “Nitrogen Day.” WW regrets the error. Also, readers asserted that an anonymous young man described in the story suffering a bad trip was not a Reed student, as the story reported. Reed College was unable to confirm whether that person was or wasn’t a student.
As of press time, almost 500 responses, many expressing harsh criticism of Willamette Week, had been posted on our website. To view them, go to wweek.com/editorial/3427/10980. To hear a podcast from Tuesday’s “Think Out Loud” broadcast about “Higher Ed” on OPB, go to opb.org/thinkoutloud.
Here are some of the responses to the article:
On behalf of the Reed College community, I write to express my profound disappointment in Willamette Week’s article on drugs at Reed [“Higher Ed,” May 14, 2008]. We certainly have serious concerns about substance abuse on this campus, and, like our counterparts at every college and university, we search diligently for wisdom on how most effectively and humanely to deal with this national issue. Unfortunately, Willamette Week provides none. Instead, the article offers a one-sided caricature, peppered with error, innuendo and misrepresentation.
The article repeatedly alleges that Reed students suffer no consequences from the college for drug use; in fact, students face disciplinary action including probation, suspension, expulsion, and mandatory medical leave. The reporter describes a campus community that was callous and indifferent to Alex Lluch’s death from a heroin overdose, ignoring evidence to the contrary, some of which he directly observed, including four heartfelt memorial celebrations of Alex’s life, a public forum on drug use attended by some 250 students, and numerous other discussions and meetings on the topic. And, he completely fails to situate the Reed story in the larger context of drug and alcohol abuse on college campuses nationwide, and the rise in heroin overdoses throughout Oregon last year. (For a list of errors, distortions, and misrepresentations, contact Mitchell Hartman, Reed College Director of Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
By publishing a story based on shoddy and biased reporting, Willamette Week discredits itself and fails readers who seek to understand this complex and important issue.
Colin S. Diver
President, Reed College
PEOPLE SEE WHAT THEY WANT TO SEE
I am the proud mom of a Reed junior who transferred from a small Christian college in the Midwest. Although our daughter’s former college is well-regarded academically, we felt that its strict social policies (while retaining a blind eye to the rather widespread alcohol abuse among its students) did not provide the latitude or openness for a thoughtful transition into the world of adult decision-making.
Our daughter wished for an academically intense atmosphere where students and administrators could approach such issues directly, emphasizing health and safety rather than hollow moralizing. Our own family policy regarding alcohol and drug abuse was one in which we taught regard for appropriate social behavior along with a fond affection for our brain cells. Given Reed’s academic rigor (and far from the drug-addled minds that were portrayed in Mr. Pitkin’s story), I am convinced that no student could graduate from Reed if they chose “substances over substance.” We have two older children who attended our state’s largest universities as undergraduates. Needless to say, their own exposure to the array of social events during those years was wide and varied! As graduate students in the fields of social work and law, both have come to concur that the most effective way to eliminate drug abuse is through education and rehabilitation rather than by punitive measures. And, while some drug abusers victimize others, drugs are not a universal prerequisite to violent or other anti-social behaviors. With those thoughts in mind, I want to lend my support to Reed, its students and administrators as they tackle a complicated issue honestly and with the proper nuance that it deserves.
As for Mr. Pitkin: People see what they want to see. A reporter who goes to Reed (or to any college) during a time of festivities looking for rampant drug use will probably find “evidence” to support that claim. As my husband, our daughter and I evaluated the merits of Reed College, we chose to see the stellar academics, the community of intellectual peers, and the lifelong friendships that she would make. Neither she, nor Reed College, has failed us in that regard.
CHASE A DIFFERENT AMBULANCE
I don’t blame Reed’s security forces for repeatedly kicking your reporter off of the campus. Your article on the drug culture at Reed is a sensationalist hit piece that capitalizes on the tragic death of a young person with a drug problem. The fact that you would wait until the closing paragraphs of the article to disclose that Alejandro Lluch had struggled with heroin addiction prior to coming to Reed is nothing short of shameful. Just as our society’s harsh, overly punitive drug laws failed to save this young man’s life, the permissive drug policies of Reed College have nothing to do with the tragically poor decisions made by Lluch in this isolated incident.
I suggest that James Pitkin find another ambulance to chase.
Ryan Van Loh
Southeast Alder Street
DISTORTS & DISRESPECTS
I think the comments made by Reed students [on WWeek.com] point out something that the article missed: the way in which we as students are trying to process, discuss, and reflect on drug use as well as the loss of someone in our community. Far from being dismissive about the importance of figuring out how we at Reed need to change, I think Reed students and many staff have been incredibly reflective and supportive of each other in this process, and that this article distorts and disrespects that work.
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