Justin Guiffre: Two strikes, you’re out

This is the first column in a three-part series on GW’s medical amnesty policy. Next week, the author will compare other universities’ policies to those of GW and discuss the possible inclusion of drug use in the policy. The third week the author will lay out the basic criteria for a rewrite of the policy, discussing the positive and negative changes made this year.

Thinking back to the warm morning of Jan. 23, I am reminded of one of the few days in my life I would have taken bitter cold over a glowing sun. It was the morning news of Laura Treanor’s death spread throughout campus. The warmth in January made the experience all the more surreal, and it was one of those days I desperately wished the weather outside matched the chill I felt inside.

For those of us at The Hatchet, the passing of Laura Treanor was an intensely personal experience. As did so many other students, we lost a colleague and a friend. The next step was to look for facts, answers and, hopefully, solutions.

GW has just completed its yearly review of the alcohol policy, with Laura’s death playing a large part. While the policy changes that came out of the review range from good to completely backward, the alcohol amnesty program remains one of the least-scrutinized and poorly administered policies at the school.

The current policy in the Student Code of Conduct reads: “Students needing to be transported to the hospital for the first time as the result of intoxication and/or alcohol poisoning will not face formal non-academic disciplinary action by the Office of Student Judicial Services, provided that the student(s) has not committed any other violations of the Code of Student Conduct that warrant formal non-academic disciplinary action.” Does that seem pretty straightforward? It’s not.

For the average student reading this policy, it appears there are little to no consequences for a first-time offense. In practice, this is not the case. Further down in the policy, some of the sanctions are specified: people who go through the amnesty program have to meet with a professional for education and assessment, the parents of underage students are notified and a monetary fine is assessed.

But for the many GW students who dream of leadership opportunities, law school, grad school or any post-secondary education, these are not the only repercussions. Part of the policy is to have the incident permanently recorded in the student’s file. These are things that students could be required to report as they apply for entry into elite graduate programs. There are avenues students can take to have their records expunged, but it is generally done at the discretion of Student Judicial Services personnel, and is only available for certain types of sanctions. As the program stands, students will have to choose between EMeRGing their friend, potentially hurting that student’s future ambitions, and hoping that they are not actually in life-threatening condition. This is a tough decision for anybody sober, but given that people presented with the choice will likely also be intoxicated to some degree, the potential for tragedy is even higher.

When it comes to the medical amnesty policy, not all students are created equal. In fact, if you are employed by housing, on certain types of scholarships, an athlete, or a member of Colonial Cabinet (to name just a few of the groups that have additional consequences), the word “amnesty” means even less. These students are held to an even higher standard of conduct because they are employed by or volunteered for those positions. For house proctors, house scholars, summer assistants and any one of the large number of people employed by housing, a first-time offense could mean losing your job and housing. While the purpose of this policy was at one point to encourage students to seek help when they need it, without fearing the repercussions, this has not been the result. Amnesty is a meaningless policy when it means that calling to help a friend in need will get him or her (or you) fired, kicked out of housing and a permanent line on your record.

The general rule for alcohol infractions is now “two strikes, you’re out.” Being EMeRGed twice will almost guarantee you a one-year suspension, regardless of the circumstances. While a punishment of suspension is not necessarily too harsh, applying such a sanction without taking into account the specifics of the events is not fair or effective. In all but the most extreme cases, students who are EMeRGed a second time can expect a one-year suspension. This is the case, even though students can be EMeRGed with blood-alcohol levels that are within the legal limit.

The problem with GW’s medical amnesty program is it isn’t really amnesty. There are real consequences when we are led to believe there are none. Naturally, some repercussions are to be expected, but for first-time occurrences, the policy doesn’t make much sense and remains so vague the average student is hard-pressed to describe what the policy means in practice. As one student involved in the application of the policy told me, “amnesty basically means you’re not suspended.” This is not acceptable if we hope to have a truly effective alcohol policy, or even a system where students feel comfortable reaching out for help if their friends are in danger.

The writer, a junior majoring in international affairs, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

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