At The Hatchet’s Student Association presidential endorsement hearings, nearly all candidates recognized medical amnesty for alcohol violations as a priority. Their proposals, however, lacked nuance and a basis in reality. Fortunately, GW is in the process of formulating a medical amnesty policy that better represents both student needs and University concerns.
Overall, University alcohol policies – with minor exceptions – are in line with what students should expect. Working toward and implementing an amnesty policy will only aid students in making the right decision when dealing with an intoxicated peer. In addition, such a policy will alleviate some negative perceptions about Student Judicial Services and its intentions.
Underage drinking is a reality that permeates GW and college campuses across the country. Accordingly, students need to take responsibility for their actions when they choose to break the law, including facing disciplinary sanctions brought by SJS. College, however, is a place to learn – not only in the classroom, but also through experiences outside of one. Medical amnesty for first-time offenders allows students to learn from their mistakes, knowing that repeat violations will mean stiffer penalties.
There needs to be a “better safe than sorry” mentality when it comes to dealing with intoxicated peers. Student fears about receiving SJS violations often mutates this into a “better be dying, or I’m not calling UPD” mentality. Although SJS argues that the current violations for first offenders are minimal – usually a $25 fine and an alcohol education class – GW students are often misinformed about the consequences of reporting an intoxicated friend. Thus, they choose to “wait it out” rather than seeking proper medical attention for their friends. A medical amnesty policy for first-time offenders will have a psychological impact on the student body that could change this dangerous line of thinking.
Medical amnesty, if marketed well by the University, will educate students about GW alcohol policies and improve student health by making clear the decision about whether to call UPD. This new policy, however, should not be a free pass for students to break the law without consequences. Repeat violations should carry increasing penalties.
Any proposed policy for medical amnesty must include key aspects that will make it both amenable to students and viable for the University to implement. Currently, students typically receive a $25 fine, mandatory participation in an alcohol safety class, a letter sent to his or her parents and a note on his or her disciplinary record from a hospitalization. We believe the first violation resulting in hospitalization should carry no fine or judicial action. Also, a letter about the incident should not be sent home to a student’s parent – one alcohol violation is not indicative of a drinking problem. SJS should, however, retain the requirement to attend an alcohol education class. One poor decision will no longer result in added frustration for students – as long as they choose to modify their behavior following the alcohol education class.
College students will continue to drink – regardless of their age. Realizing this fact and reacting to it with a realistic and fair medical amnesty policy will benefit both the University and students.