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Reed Students Celebrate Renn Fayre Under Dark Clouds

This weekend, Oregon’s Reed College celebrates the end of the school term with a time-honored tradition – the annual Renn Fayre.

But this year’s revels have taken on a different tone. Some powerful lawmen recently warned Reed to clean up its act on drug abuse. April Baer reports.

Every day this week, Reed College students have marched into the recorder’s office to deliver their senior thesis papers.

Daniel Kurbanov  “It’s – um – Naltrexone Suppresses Food Intake Weight Gain in the Rat Model of Olanzapine-induced Hyperphagia and Obesity.”

It’s a big moment, for students like Daniel Kurbanov, and everybody celebrates.

This is the kick-off for Reed’s annual Renn Fayre – a high-spirited three-day festival marking the end of spring semester.

Sam Biddle is another senior at Reed this year.

Sam Biddle   “We’ll all be wearing our laurels, little plastic golden garland things on our heads we get when we turn our theses in. There’s a giant bonfire and there are  flower petals being shot from a cannon on the roof.”

The festival features human chessboards, students rolling across the lawn in enormous metal spheres. You Tube videos like this one show plenty of evidence of revelry in the past.

The celebration may have an edge to it this year. Last month, a student, Sam Tepper, died in his off-campus apartment of a heroin overdose – another undergrad died of a heroin overdose in 2008.

Multnomah County DA Mike Schrunk, and interim U.S. attorney Dwight Holton summoned Reed President Colin Diver last week for a discussion of Reed’s drug policy.

Holton and Schrunk wrote a letter to students calling for a zero tolerance policy prohibiting illegal drugs flat-out at Renn Fayre and on campus. Holton told Diver undercover agents would be attending this weekend’s festivities.

Dwight Holton “I urged President Diver to seize the moment  - of Renn Fayre in the wake of this terrible death, as the right moment to make a change at Reed College —  to separate legitimate intellectual exploration from drug use, emphatically, and for good.”

Diver told students – and some reporters – he came away with the impression Reed’s federal funding might be at stake. Diver now says that impression was erroneous.

Holton says he has neither the power nor the desire to hit Reed in its wallet.

Dwight Holton: “I did ask President Diver if he expected to face substantial resistance, and if he did expect to face substantial resistance, he might want to point out there are federal statutes that make it illegal to maintain a premises for the purpose of using or distributing drugs. Allegations of what happened at past Renn Fayres sure might raise some eyebrows.”

Reed students and staff say they’re deeply shaken by Tepper’s death. The college’s student body has historically been characterized as a target-rich environment for drug dealers.

But the college says it’s not true there is no policy on drug abuse, or that police are never called.

Mike Brody is Reed’s Vice President & Dean of Students .

Mike Brody “Really our policy does not differ substantially from the drug and alcohol policies at other universities around the country. We are subject to the same review process under the federal government. We uphold the laws of the land.”

What’s different, he says, is a commitment to prevention and therapy, in addition to punishment. Reed has nearly 17 staffers, full- and part-time, who do substance abuse counseling. For a student body of 1500, he says that’s a lot.

This year is hardly the first time law enforcement has made a public example of Reed. Back in 2002, the school’s then-president informed students the FBI would make an undercover visit to Renn Fayre.

Chris Moses was Reed student body president that year. He’s not convinced drug use is more common at Reed than other schools.

Chris Moses:  “I don’t think there’s any more prevalence. It was certainly talked about more. But I also think volume of conversation does not necessarily indicate volume of use.”

Holton wrote a letter to the student body asking Reed students to consider the global implications of using illegal drugs. Moses says he can’t square a thoughtful approach to drug use with asking students to completely abstain.

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