It’s an aspect of the drug culture that’s been around ever since there was a drug culture in the United States… the question of whether certain segments of the drug user and dealer population are treated differently by law enforcement.
It’s also a subject that Dr. A. Rafik Mohamed, chair of the department of social sciences and associate professor of sociology and criminology at Clayton State University has been interested in for a long time… ever since his own senior year in college, when he worked as an intern investigator at the Washington D.C. Public Defender Service (PDS).
While the effects of social status and race on drug enforcement has been discussed at great length for the past 40 years or so, Mohamed and co-author Dr. Erik D. Fritsvold, assistant professor of sociology at the University of San Diego, have gone beyond the discussion stage, they’ve written a book, “Dorm Room Dealers: Drugs and the Privileges of Race and Class” (Lynne Rienner Publishers, ISBN 978-1-58826-667-5) that delivers details and insight into the world of college drug dealers. In “Dorm Room Dealers,” Mohamed and Fritsvold study both the motives for drug dealing on college campuses, and the premise that “rich, white college kids” are often shielded from legal scrutiny and enforcement by the criminal justice system, because they’re rich and white.
“I think our book’s most significant conclusions are that college drug markets, particularly those that revolve around universities that cater to a more affluent and less racially diverse student population, are known to exist but are largely ignored by university officials and law enforcement agencies,” says Mohamed., who adds that social capital and protecting an image play key roles in the disparity of enforcement.
“We also sought to explore the motivations behind college drug dealing, particularly in light of the fact that most college dealers don’t primarily seem to be involved in it for the money,” he further explains. “We found that factors like status, ego gratification, and gender identity played key roles in the `irrational choice’ to sell drugs.”
Although “Dorm Room Dealers” was initially published in January 2010, Mohamed notes that the book has recently begun to receive a lot more public attention.
“I think the recent drug busts at Columbia, Georgetown, and other places have brought the issue of college drug dealing to the fore,” he says.
College drug dealing and the racial imbalance therein has been “to the fore” for Mohamed ever since his college years.
“That's in part what sparked my interest in the research,” he says. “About 75 percent of the cases I came across at PDS were PWID – possession with intent to distribute – or related cases.
“However, what struck me as significantly out of balance was the juxtaposition between the circumstances of my PDS cases and the very vibrant and non-discreet drug culture that existed on and around the many college campuses I visited in the D.C. area. Specifically, it became rather clear to me that my clients at PDS, all of whom were black males, were being treated differently for their drug using behaviors than my more affluent, predominantly white, college-aged peers in the D.C. area.”
Later, while he was working as a professor in Southern California, Mohamed would often discuss these disparities with co-author Fritsvold – who was a graduate student at another university at the time. Fritsvold’s frame of reference was the coastal Southern California surf-culture and the drug markets that operated around these social networks.
“Through these conversations, two things became rather evident,” says Mohamed. “First, in his experience, there did not appear to be a substantial difference between my observations of disparate treatment in drug policy and drug law enforcement in the decade that passed between when I was in D.C., and when we began our conversations. Second, a very obvious drug culture existed on and around college campuses in Southern California, yet we could not think of anyone or any reports of these people facing the same criminal justice scrutiny encountered by their street-corner counterparts. Therefore, we decided to take a closer look to see what the differences were in how the markets functioned, demographic characteristics, and criminal justice outcomes.”
For more information on “Dorm Room Dealers,” contact Lynne Rienner Publishers’ Mary Kay Jezzini at (212) 673-1812 or go to www.rienner.com.