The following reflects the majority opinion of the editorial board.
Walking home late at night through dark streets filled with bars and drunk people, it’s logical to want some kind of protection. It especially makes sense to want that protection on a college campus that has 13 reported sexual assaults this semester.
For a lot of people, mace is that protection.
Carrying mace, or pepper spray, makes sense for many Miamians. It is something small they can put in their pocket and pull out quickly if they need to defend themselves. For many, mace is “power in a can,” as one of our editors said during discussion. The hope is that just the sight of it is enough to deter an assailant.
Miami’s Office of Residence Life (ORL) prohibits possessing mace and pepper spray in dorms. This is not a new rule, but there has been a good deal of miscommunication between different sectors of the university surrounding this issue.
MUPD and the Dean of Students have stated that mace and pepper spray are not banned campus-wide.
While mace is not explicitly outlawed in the weapons section of the Student Code of Conduct, ORL has interpreted the “dangerous chemical” provision to include mace and pepper spray. While the purpose of this ruling may be to prevent accidents and misuse of mace in residence halls, we believe this interpretation of policy is an overcorrection.
Banning mace is dangerous because it takes away a line of defense for students. Pepper spray is not lethal. An affected person will likely suffer a rash, irritation, probably some other minor injuries, but they are all temporary. The value in mace is the instantaneous impact. The intense cloud of burning that gives a potential victim time to run away from an attacker.
But the attacker will eventually recover. Their eyes might be red for a day or two, but most of the effects only last for 20 to 90 minutes.
Mace is not a “deadly weapon.”
And a small can of mace gives the wielder a sense of security and safety even when it isn’t in use.
A possible argument for enforcing this prohibition is that when someone is attacked by someone they know, they could be less likely to use pepper spray.
Frankly, that’s a terrible argument.
Taking away a defense against assault because it is unlikely to be used is like taking away flashlights because the lights rarely go out. No one is worse off with another line of non-lethal defense. Having pepper spray when someone is attacked by a friend does not make their chances of freezing less. It does not make their chance of escaping that assault smaller.
Shock is inevitable in traumatic situations. No one expects to be assaulted. But maybe that shock will wear off after a moment and they will remember that they have a tool to defend themselves. But if that defense is gone because they were afraid to be written up in their dorms, then the only thing that will remain after the initial shock will be panic, fear and helplessness.
If the university is so concerned with the safety of students around pepper spray, they should focus more on education and training in how to safely use it. Teach students that it sprays in a cloud and can affect them as well. Teach them how to hold it and point it where they want it. Teach them it expires.
MUPD lists warning about the risks of using pepper spray on their website, but they need to be broadly communicated to the Miami Community.
Taking away protections won’t make students safer, but teaching them to protect themselves will.