The SUNY Oneonta College policy strictly prohibits the use of pepper aerosol spray on campus. This ban has recently become the topic of debate on campus, and there are people who feel passionately on both sides.
The most vocal members are part of the Young Americans for Liberty Club. The club is part of a nationwide organization to help young people start political careers. The Oneonta chapter is one of many trying to make the change on college campuses. About four weeks ago, the club started a petition to get the pepper spray ban repealed. There is both a paper petition going around campus and one online. The petition on Change.org states, “By signing this petition, you are showing your support to allow pocket-sized canisters of pepper aerosol sprays to be carried by students at the age of 18 or older for purposes of self-defense.”
I spoke to club president, Alex Woodruff and he’s eager to make positive change on campus. He said, “Granted that everything goes well, and the policy is changed, we as a school will have taken one step in the right direction when it comes to the defense of individual rights for every student on campus, which at the end of the day is all that our chapter could ask for.”
The policy has stirred concern among the students. Back in October of 2021, the University Police Department started getting reports that an unknown subject was following students around on campus late at night. Because of situations like these, students feel that they should be allowed to protect themselves. Woodruff adds, “Students should be allowed to have the tools necessary to protect themselves against attackers on campus, no question about it.” In the petition, he also brings up some statistics about sexual assault on college campuses. “According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in every 5 women and 1 in every 16 men are sexually assaulted while at college,” said Woodruff.
The reasoning for the ban goes back years. Interim Cheif of Police, William Henn, said, “Pepper spray has been included in the list of weapons prohibited from campus for more than 30 years. This is due in part to the fact that pepper spray used to be illegal in New York State.” It’s no secret that what’s allowed in the state isn’t always allowed on campus.
If you’re a SUNY Oneonta student, chances are you are no stranger to petitions with varying degrees of success. However, this one has come a long way. Woodruff said, “Collectively, we have collected around 300 signatures in support. Last week on Mar. 3, I and a few chapter members attended the president-student dialogue where I brought up the petition and the suggested policy revisions.” The petition has made it onto the desk of SUNY Oneonta President, Dr. Alberto Cardelle, and there are conversations being had among higher administration. Henn said, “The petition has compelling arguments, and the administration is currently researching to determine if keeping pepper spray on the list of prohibited weapons is still appropriate or how the college might be able to regulate safe and proper use on campus.”
Regardless of whatever side you are on, you can’t overlook that everyone wants to ensure a safe environment for SUNY Oneonta students, and not just with pepper spray. Henn mentioned, “Safety of our community members is of utmost priority to the college and several free resources and trainings are currently offered to learn about best practices surrounding personal safety, including Rape Aggression Defense and Civilian Response to Active Shooter Event programs.”
If you’re interested in being safe on campus with or without pepper spray, contact university police and find out how to participate in these programs.