Justin Guiffre: Moving beyond “shamnesty”

Editor’s note: This is the final column in a three-part series on GW’s medical amnesty policy. Two weeks ago, the author discussed the lack of a true amnesty policy at GW. Last week, the author drew a comparison between other universities’ policies and those of GW and discussed the necessary inclusion of drug use in the policy.

The purpose of a medical amnesty policy is clear. It is intended to remove the fear of calling emergency services during a potentially life-threatening situation. In this regard, however, GW’s amnesty policy is failing miserably and dangerously.

Earlier this month, GW finished its yearly alcohol policy review. Somehow this review was done without an official, named director for GW’s Center for Alcohol and other Drug Education, the very office the policy is centered around. CADE has existed without an official director, or even an interim director, for 18 months. An assistant director currently leads the office. Why this person hasn’t been promoted or a new director hasn’t been instated is anybody’s guess, as CADE representatives did not respond to a request for comment. The egregious director oversight notwithstanding, however, the University’s review resulted in a range of good, promising changes to completely backward ones.

The good elements are mostly the educational aspects. While the “Every Colonial Counts” program leaves something to be desired in terms of a name, it is generally a concise and effective educational reference. For a long time, students have complained about the lack of alcohol education provided for the general student body. Implementing a basic education program about alcohol use and policy should be a task for next year’s Colonial Inauguration. Education is the first step in prevention. Knowing the signs of alcohol poisoning and being versed in tolerance levels is important for student safety.

On the other hand, the policy revisions include some awful decisions. One of these is the decision to notify a student’s parents within 24 hours of an alcohol-related incident. Students should be given the opportunity to tell their parents themselves. Given that many of these students spend their first 24 hours in the hospital or recovering at home, this isn’t always possible. In contrast, the policy could result in more drunken students calling parents from inside an EMeRG ambulance – something that already happens. As I discussed in my previous amnesty column, going through the medical amnesty program does not necessarily mean you are in any danger because of alcohol consumption. Making a phone call so soon after an incident doesn’t allow the school to put the events in perspective for parents. In truth, parents shouldn’t be notified by the school on a first-time offense. We come to college over the age of 18 to learn some responsibility and independence. GW should not be making hasty and vague calls to parents of people who are legal adults.

The most backward change made by the review is the decision to heighten amnesty requirements. The University needs to realize that the problem with alcohol policy on campus is not that requirements are too low, but rather that the current policy creates too many barriers for students to feel comfortable calling for help. Increasing the number of required meetings with professional staff to two also seems to make little sense in resolving these problems. Many students already claim these meetings are unproductive. While it is important to find out if a student has a deep, underlying reason for drinking excessively (in which case a referral and further treatment is necessary), it remains unclear what would be accomplished in two meetings that couldn’t be resolved in one. This seems like a waste of time for both students and staff.

To really solve the problems with alcohol policy, the University needs to reduce the amnesty requirements. The monetary fine is the simplest thing to drop. What is more valuable to the University: $50, or reducing every possible reason not to call for help? GW needs to guarantee that a first-time offense will not be put in a student’s record – something that should happen in the event of a second offense. Simply having a separate, confidential list of students who have been through the amnesty policy once would solve this. Students need to be assured that the event will not be passed along to post-secondary institutions, including the application process for GW programs. Some students should also be eligible for the amnesty policy more than once. While the circumstances would need to be fairly extreme for this to happen, keeping Student Judicial Services from taking extenuating circumstances into consideration could keep SJS from reacting appropriately.

Additionally, the many students who are employed by the University in some capacity need to be protected by amnesty. Right now, these students face harsher sanctions than others. It is time to stop punishing college students who are on scholarship, employed or volunteering their time to the school simply because they are more involved. Just because a student is taking the time to be on Colonial Cabinet or work for housing does not mean they should be punished especially hard for a one-time personal decision. Finally, the practice of sending warning letters to people who have called for help needs to stop.

It’s time to turn GW’s current “shamnesty” policy into a real amnesty policy. There is a good framework already in existence for such a task. The policy structure that has had a demonstrable difference in the number of individuals calling for help is based on three levels of amnesty: individual, caller and institutional. The individual level is for the student in need of medical attention. The caller level is to protect students who make the right decision to call for help. Caller level should include at least two elements: protection from student code violations for the underage possession of alcohol and for the provision of alcohol to underage persons. Institutional amnesty is the furthest from a “get out jail free” card, but needs to be included. It will apply to groups like fraternities and student organizations that have hosted an event in which drinking occurred. Organizations that choose to call in the case of an emergency should be given extra consideration in any judicial hearings for their responsible actions.

In my pieces on amnesty, I have invoked the possibility of a death if policy isn’t rewritten. Is this inflammatory or overly dramatic? Resoundingly, no. I believe that a change in this policy could save lives. If no revision is made, I desperately hope that I am wrong.

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

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