Your Brain on Red Ribbon Week


Ingrid Trejo

RRW poster spotted at Gilliland Elementary warning the students of the dangers of wearing pajamas to school

Travis Flippo, Gonzo Journalist

Across the Americas, kids everywhere are led into their beliefs of obedience with a nationwide celebration of Red Ribbon Week. Red Ribbon Week is a weeklong awareness program set in October every year to campaign against drug abuse. It began in 1985 and has spread to elementary schools across the nation. I, along with millions of other red-blooded American kids grew up with these ideals spoon-fed to us in the form of dress-up days and flashy ribbons handed out to us. These methods appeal to the youngins, but much is lost in translation as us kids get older and somewhat more impatient in terms of listening to adults.

In high schools, many DEA warnings have fallen on deaf ears to older kids. Their goal, even later on, is to effectively warn kids against the dangers that result from the use of illegal drugs. The irony is that the origin of Red Ribbon Week is in the memory of a DEA agent that died in the pursuit of apprehending a large narcotics manufacturing ring in Guadalajara, Mexico. Not that I am in any position to question these methods, it has become apparent to me that, as kids get older, they tend to care exponentially less about what some Boomer has to say about drug abuse.

I talked to some freshmen about their RRW experiences and they were very enlightening.

“Yeah we did it in elementary school, and a little in middle school too,” freshman Charles Schlichenmeyer said. “A lot of it was just an excuse to dress up without any other motive.”

I asked if this early Halloween had an effect on him and his contemporaries.

“Not really,” Schlichenmeyer said. “I mean it brings attention to it but it doesn’t address the real issue.”

Charles, as well as his friend Cooper, are two individuals that have been subjected to this type of indoctrination. They aren’t the only ones to be told that ‘drugs r bad’. I was right there with them for the better part of 12 years. It becomes apparent that this endeavor is some kind of dodge, or hustle for the DEA to enforce its dated ideology on an increasingly intolerant public.

When I talked to some older kids, I realized just how ineffective the Red Ribbon Week really is. 

I gave them a test, “You know Red Ribbon Week is happening right now, right?” 

Not a single kid knew.

A wave of smug contentment washed over me.

They were a bit confused, “Really?”

They shared with me their stories of revelry in their elementary days of dressing up to “‘Sock it’ to Drugs” by wearing crazy socks, or “‘Lei’ Off Drugs” by sporting Native Hawaiian attire. Among the other nausea-inducing themes, the students confessed to me how their schools didn’t really highlight the real issues about drug abuse.

I also attended a pep rally held at Gililland Elementary. Emceed by gymnastics coach Eric Briley, he and the rowdy group of students there represented a melting pot of our school. Basketball, cheer, dance, and gymnastics all attended this pep rally and made the point of displaying how hard each team works for their respective organization. Coach Briley made a wonderful speech to the youngins about how these diligent students have made the right choices to get them to the position they are in today. He said how the transition from elementary to middle and even high school is very important in keeping your grades up and being a good, obedient child. He and I both knew what goes down in the depths of modern high schools. But nonetheless, he urged the kids that their lungs do not want vape or cigarette smoke in them, just regular air. The message to the kids left out any other drugs that most Ribbon Weekers tend to drill home. It was like starting a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of snakes, without ever showing the poor saps a picture of one. During the speech, I made sure to watch the kids to see if they were getting the message. I saw myself in one young buck sitting criss-cross applesauce whose mind was probably on Hot Wheels instead of the matter at hand. The problem is that the younger kids are the only ones that will listen, but the only ones who don’t understand. Notwithstanding their wonderful dress-up week, these kids have no idea what drugs even are, much less what to stay away from.

Red Ribbon Week is a weeklong exodus to the center of the DEA psyche. It is a look into the mind of the US Department of Education and their detachment from the citizens they educate. Many high schools have bigger fish to fry than trying to deter kids from using drugs, or remedy the ones that have been doing drugs for sometimes years by this point. I feel that there must be a better solution to help kids make less awful choices as young folks. High school kids regard Red Ribbon Week as just another week in their school year, and frankly, they have nothing to tell them otherwise.