By EMILY FRANK
On a campus whose devotion to safety is as evident as the blue lights on every corner, some would be surprised to learn that mace and pepper spray are strictly prohibited in dining and residence halls.
This prohibition was listed in the 2006 Housing and Dining Services Contract and has been in effect for several years, although many are unaware of the rule.
Director of University Police James Snipes fully supports this mandate, arguing that, unless an individual is properly trained in using chemical defense weapons, they usually do more harm than good.
The University has no plans to offer training sessions on the use of chemical defense sprays.
According to Lieutenant David Cooper, training involves being sprayed, and because of liability issues the University will not offer such training.
“Being sprayed hurts,” Cooper said. “After I was sprayed I later told my wife that if someone was acting up and wouldn’t cooperate I’d rather shoot them, because it wouldn’t hurt as much.”
Christine Porter, director of residence life and housing, says the prohibition of mace and other harmful chemicals was a University policy when she joined the staff in 1999.
“It has always been a policy at all the schools I’ve worked at,” Porter said. “We have to prohibit all kinds of things because they are not appropriate for high density living situations. Because of allergies and the air flow systems in the dorms, we could have a lot of problems if something like that went off in a building.”
Many students carry mace or pepper spray anyway despite the prohibition, including sophomore Maggie Smith.
“Although I personally do not carry pepper spray with me, I think people should be allowed to do so,” Smith said. “It can make many women feel more safe and confident, especially when they are walking through campus alone. I know there are the ‘blue lights’ but they aren’t as reassuring as a can of pepper spray in your pocket.”
A female junior agreed, but wished to remain anonymous for fear of sanctions.
“We go to a school with a large female population that is located in the middle of a city, so I feel a little safer with my pepper spray in my purse,” she said.
The punishment for a student who is caught with mace or pepper spray varies depending on the situation.
“Most of the times the student will be asked to take the illegal item home during the next break,” Porter said. “If they do not comply with the University’s request then matters are taken to the office of judicial affairs.”
Raymond Tuttle, director of judicial affairs, said that the sanctions for an incident involving mace or pepper spray could range anywhere from a verbal warning to school expulsion, depending on the circumstances.
“Obviously is a student used it on another student for no reason, that could be considered assault, but if a student uses it in self defense, that’s a different situation,” Tuttle said. “But in my ten years working here I have never had a case of mace or pepper spray being used by a student or by the police against a student.”
Mace is a tear gas in the form of an aerosol spray which forces the eyes shut due to intense pain. It can also cause tearing and sometimes temporary blindness.
The effects can last from 30 minutes to two hours, depending of the individual. Since it is an irritant some people may not be affected by it while others can build a tolerance to it.
Snipes has heard stories of criminals who will repeatedly expose themselves to mace in order to become resilient to it.
Mace is no longer being used as frequently as it used to be; in its place is pepper spray, another type of a chemical defense weapon.
Pepper spray is an inflammatory; it creates a physiological reaction that cannot be controlled, so it is impossible to build up a tolerance to it.
Some people may not be affected by OC spray at all, but they are very rare. The effects of pepper spray force the eyes shut, cause coughing and restricted breathing and a burning sensation on the skin. The effects usually wear off after 45 minutes.
University police made the switch from mace to pepper spray in 2005 because pepper spray is more effective and the effects do not last as long.
There are other options besides mace or pepper spray for the men and women of UMW.
The University police offer a safety escort service for students who do not feel comfortable walking through campus alone at night.
To get in contact with the escort service call extention 1025 or use one of the blue light phones on campus.
Sharon Mullen, a University police officer, also teaches a free self-defense class called RAD, which stands for Rape Aggression Defense.
Until this year, Mullen was only able to offer the class to women but after a summer training program she has now been certified to teach men as well. The class is four four-hour sessions that takes place over the course of two weeks. For more information, e-mail Mullen at firstname.lastname@example.org.