In this latest display of drug war-fueled racism, a Tennessee school forces black students to submit to drug tests. If you weren’t yet convinced that cannabis prohibition disproportionately targets people of color, you will be after reading this. Here’s what happened at a university in Tennessee.
Diamond Bell is a freshman studying psychology at Trevecca Nazarene University, a small Christian college in Nashville. She and another student—both black women—also just received an impromptu lesson in social justice and the drug war. And how their school forces black students to submit to drug tests.
On the night of October 29, after Bell had returned to campus from her full-time job at a fast-food restaurant, resident advisors at Bell’s dorm were conducting a nightly round of bed checks (sounds like a fun dorm) when someone supposedly smelled weed.
Bell lives in a suite-style accommodation which she shares with three other women—one black, two white. She awoke sometime after midnight; the dorm’s resident director was shaking her awake.
According to a Facebook post from Bell’s mother, the RAs suspected Bell and the other black student of drug use—not their white suitemates. They denied using cannabis but had their room tossed just the same.
You can see where this is going. The RAs did not search the white women. Rightly incensed, Bell and her mother requested a meeting with the college’s dean of students for an explanation—and, one would think, an apology.
Instead, when they showed up to the meeting, the dean instructed Bell to pee in a cup. She had to take a drug test, the dean told her. If she refused, the administration would consider the test “a positive.”
University policy bans drugs including marijuana—which is illegal in Tennessee. Bell submitted to the test, which she passed. To date, the university has yet to explain itself or apologize. Instead, Trevecca Nazarene University has dug in, insisting it was in the right and that it didn’t commit any racial profiling.
“The search and test are standard University policy in situations where there is reasonable cause, and there is no indication of targeting in this incident,” a statement from the school released to WKRN reads. “We take any reports of this type seriously with an expectation that all people on our campus will be treated with love and respect.”
Across the country, more and more schools are confusing their missions of education with being a wing of the nation’s drug police. In Trevecca’s case, the student handbook had no printed warning of mandatory drug tests. So the school has yet to share any justification for its actions.
In the meantime, the story, now a viral sensation, has generated outrage on social media. Apparently, this is not the first time black students have felt singled out by the university for harsh or selective treatment.
Advocates for Bell and her family met with Trevecca’s dean on Friday. Nobody has quite explained the situation or offered an apology—for the drug test, for the baseless midnight search, for anything. But what can they say at this point? They know what they did. They know that their school forces black students to submit to drug tests. And everyone observing the situation does, too.