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Studying the drug war

Illegal drugs may be a familiar topic of discussion on college campuses, but according to DU’s Arthur Gilbert, that doesn’t mean students understand them.

Gilbert says students often are bombarded with information about drugs but they rarely get an opportunity to study the business of illegal drugs or their impact on society.

That’s why for the last decade Gilbert, an associate professor in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, has taught a class called The Drug War: Domestic and International Consequences.

The course educates students about the role and impact of drugs in international affairs. It covers a broad range of topics, from the definition of addiction and the criminal justice system to rising tensions in Mexico and the war on drugs.

Gilbert draws from articles, books and films — including Requiem for a Dream and Maria Full of Grace — to help make his points. Film helps students understand the drug problem from a human perspective, he says.

Gilbert wants students to understand how domestic and international affairs relate, and that attitudes toward drugs are shaped by culture. He also encourages students to analyze empirical data and information about drugs before taking a position on how harmful they are.

“Most students simply don’t have enough information, or the information they get is tainted,” he says. “They don’t have a sense of whether drugs are more harmful than other things they do.”

“The class taught me to disregard the usual stereotypes that we think of when we look at a drug addict,” says Sara Castellanos (BA journalism ’09). “Professor Gilbert does a great job of giving the students information to make our own decisions about drug use and drug policies in the national and global perspectives.”

“It is much more than studying drugs; it’s a way of seeing how the world works,” Gilbert says.


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