LETTER: IU Must End its Ban on Pepper Spray

Woman carrying pepper spray | Photo Courtesy of Women On Guard
Woman carrying pepper spray | Photo Courtesy of Women On Guard

Recently, an article was published in The Campus Citizen about the work student organizations and the IU Police Department (IUPD) are doing to improve campus safety at IUPUI. 

However, like the many students whom I have spoken with, you may be surprised to know that IU has a policy banning pepper spray and similar weapons. 

Indiana University Policy PS-03 states “Possession of a dangerous article or substance as a potential weapon is also prohibited. Such dangerous articles for the purposes of this policy include, but are not limited to: tasers, electronic stun weapons, stun guns, explosives such as bombs, grenades, blasting caps, and ammunition, as well as other equipment, material, and devices (e.g., knives, metal knuckles, tear gas, chemical substances) that could be or have been used to cause harm or the fear of harm.”

I was initially unsure if this policy would consider pepper spray to be a weapon. To clarify, I discussed this matter over the phone with Brad Seifers, the IUPD Deputy Superintendent. He was able to confirm that possessing pepper spray on campus does, in fact, violate the university’s weapons policy, PS-03. 

You may wonder, “I never have problems carrying pepper spray- if it’s not enforced, then what’s the issue?” 

The biggest problem with an existing policy that is not enforced is that the University has the freedom to enforce the policy unfairly and discriminatorily. If there is a student that, for whatever reason, the University did not like, IU could suspend or expel the student for possessing pepper spray, while several other students confidently carry the same weapon. Furthermore, if a policy is not enforced, why should it continue to exist on the books? 

More importantly, the existing policy being in the books allows the university to change their mind at any time and start punishing students for wanting to protect themselves. Therefore, this policy should be modified to include an exception for pepper sprays and other similar sprays or be completely removed altogether.  

In a city like Indianapolis, with a homicide rate exceeding that of Chicago, and on campuses where sexual assault and rape is not uncommon, it should devastate anyone to know that university policy prohibits students, especially female students, from being able to carry something as simple as pepper spray to defend themselves. The idea that young female students should have to walk back to their cars, dorms, or apartments completely defenseless unless they violate university policy is, in my view, disgusting and inhumane. If we want to keep IUPUI safe, this policy has to be updated.

It is incredibly important to understand that IU is not only discouraging female students from defending themselves from potential attackers, but IU is actively prohibiting it. Additionally, this policy forces female students to be more vulnerable to attackers and rapists, making it a pro-rape policy. Rapists should be afraid to commit these terrible acts. We need to allow students to defend themselves by allowing the possession of pepper spray on campus.  

I’ve started a petition to end this ban. Despite being fairly new, at the time I wrote this article the petition had 264 signatures, and my goal is 1,000. So far, I’ve talked to over 200 students about the ban and I plan to talk to more. Not one of them agreed with the policy and most were eager to sign my petition. I challenge the administration to find even five students from any IU campus that actively agree with a prohibition on pepper spray. No one on campus wants to take pepper spray away from students, especially our female classmates. So why would we let the IU administration continue to get away with doing exactly that? 

Jason Riley is a junior majoring in business management and minoring in political science at IUPUI. He is also the Indiana State Chair of Young Americans for Liberty and the Vice President of the Young Americans for Liberty at IUPUI. 

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