This column originally was written in 2006. It bears repeating.
This month thousands of kids are headed off to college. For many of them this will be their first time away from home. If you’re the parent of one of those kids, give them this column and make sure they read it.
Welcome to College Town USA. The locals don’t like you very much. The local police like you even less. You aren’t as easily bullied as the local down and outers and that irritates them. Expect to be pushed around by the police just because you’re students. Expect the courts to back them up. Nobody ever lost a vote in a college town abusing the students. They look at you as temporary annoyances to be tolerated before the next batch of bad mannered teenagers arrive to be fleeced. Remember this: the cops and courts hold all the cards. Don’t fight them. You’ll lose. Forget the Constitution, fairness, civil rights, and everything you’ve learned about how the government is supposed to treat citizens.
You’re a student. Think of your time in College Town like a prison sentence. Stay out of trouble and get out as fast as you can.
There are five main dangers you face in a college town. It’s unlikely you’ll be the victim of a crime. By far the biggest danger comes from the city and campus police departments. The next biggest danger is your landlord. College towns and their court systems are well-oiled machines designed to separate students and their parents from their money. They arrive, are squeezed dry, and then go away. Some have their lives ruined by criminal convictions or civil lawsuits while at college. Here are some things to remember so you aren’t one of those unfortunates.
First, Criminal Sexual Conduct can be almost anything. Butt pinching qualifies as Criminal Sexual Conduct in the 4th Degree. That’s a 2-year crime treated as a Felony. Isabella County will prosecute you for that and you can wind up on the sex offender list until you’re middle aged.
You can be arrested and convicted on nothing more than the accusation of an angry girlfriend. On campuses they’re terrified of being accused of being insensitive to women’s issues. That’s what gave rise to the Duke University “rape” debacle. If you’re male, the police and college administration are not your friends. Women are victims. Men are predators.
Second, you’re going to drink. You’re in college and were raised on MTV. You think you’re supposed to drink. College towns are filled with bars and stores that want to sell you booze. The trouble is you’re under 21 and if you drink you’re a minor in possession by consumption. Even though the courts keep telling local cops it’s unconstitutional, they keep right on accosting kids on the street and insisting they take a preliminary breath test or pay a fine. MIP is a cash cow for college town courts. It also gives you a criminal record and counts as a drunk driving or “625 offense” conviction if you get caught for drunk driving later.
Which brings us to drunk driving. The law has changed so that the “drunk” in drunk driving refers to a blood alcohol level rather than a physical condition. In other words, you can be legally “drunk” without being physically drunk. .08 is the cutoff and it doesn’t take much alcohol to make you a criminal. You can be guilty of committing this crime without knowing you’re doing anything criminal.
Millions of dollars are generated for governments by drunk driving. Fines, costs, alcohol testing, probation oversight fees, victims rights fees…a DWI is worth about $1000.00 to a court. On top of that the Secretary of State will shake you down either $1000 per year for a DWI or $500 a year for an Impaired driving. For 2 years! There were 54,056 arrests in Michigan for DWI and Impaired in 2005. Average that out to $1500 and we’re talking about $81 million bucks a year! Making it even better is that you’ll pay and feel guilty about it. It’s the perfect tax. The taxpayer pays and blames themselves for being taxed! College towns full of inexperienced drinkers are what the Air Force calls a “target rich environment.” You’re the target. They get rich.
Landlords. You lease an apartment with a couple of other people. The landlord demands your parents sign as guarantors of the lease. Remember, a lease is for the year. You owe the entire amount when you sign. If you move out they’ll sue you for the balance of the year. They’ll also sue your parents. These leases are written by pros so you and your parents are going to be stuck. College town landlords know that someone will drop out, or the roommates will have a fight or something will happen before the lease is up. They WILL sue you and your parents and get a judgment against all of you.
Finally, pot. Marijuana, the Killer Weed. Some of you already smoke pot, or at least have smoked pot. If John Stewart mentions it on the Dailey Show the audience roars. The legal system at Cornfield U doesn’t. To you it’s a harmless vice. To them it’s drugs. This is a generational thing. You won’t be on campus long before someone offers to share a joint with you. Be aware that the locals treat this as a serious drug offense. If you get stopped by the police, and you will, the first thing they’ll do is shine a light in your ashtray to see if there’s a roach there. They’ll search your car looking for dope. If you’re caught bad things will happen to you. Very bad things.
Ok, I’ve told you the plain, unvarnished truth. A visit to the Mt. Pleasant District Court will verify what I’ve told you. You’re a kid so you won’t pay much attention. You don’t think it will happen to you. But it will happen to you unless you’re very, very, careful. Students in a college town are minnows in a tank full of piranhas. You’ve been warned.