Justin Guiffre: Revisiting GW’s shamnesty policy

Many of our campus’ problems are minor annoyances. Mandatory dining money is always a source of student complaints, 4-RIDE takes more than an hour to respond and, of course, that nail sticks out of the sidewalk in front of Ivory Tower. (Really, how hard is it to simply cut an inch-long screw?) But at least one issue is much more important than all the others, because it deals with life-and-death situations. I’m talking about GW’s horribly inadequate alcohol amnesty policy; or, as I like to refer to it, GW’s “sham”-nesty policy.

There is a sad truth to the debate over alcohol policy on GW’s campus: It doesn’t really exist. It’s really a problem of priorities. See, the Student Association will gladly attempt to revamp the SA constitution, or spend multiple sessions debating gender-neutral housing, but when it comes to a policy that could literally save a student’s life, they are woefully uninterested. The SA doesn’t have any ability to actually create policy, which, considering most of their work, is probably the best thing about the SA. Nonetheless, they do have the capability to get students talking and catch the ear of administrators on problems that matter.

Beyond student involvement, it is important for administrators to truly care about the issue. Thus far, GW’s administration has somehow managed to avoid naming a nominal director for the Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Education for well over a year now. In that time, they completed an overhaul of the so-called amnesty policy – without naming a new director. It is disingenuous for school officials to claim to have concern over creating good drug and alcohol programs without empowering the very office that deals with them. For this issue, indifference can be deadly.

As I have described in previous columns, the new policy is not a solution to GW’s problems with alcohol. We have yet to hear satisfactory arguments for the changes that were made to the alcohol policy. For example, the school “heightened” the policy requirements, which is the exact opposite of the change that should have been made. When you want to encourage students to call for help, you don’t make the repercussions of doing so more dramatic. Particularly, the inclusion of a phone call to parents within the first 24 hours, before school administrators have had time to put the details of the events into context, is inflammatory and accomplishes nothing more than agitating the situation.

The policy is too long to critique in full detail here (one of its faults), but there are two aspects that need to change above all others. First, if a student is employed by the University, it should not be taken into consideration on a first offense. According to one student involved in the application of the current policy, if you are employed by GW and are EMeRGed, you might very well be told not to show up for work on Monday. Secondly, the consequence of being EMeRGed twice should not always be a year-long suspension. As the policy functions now, there are few circumstances in which a second infraction will not be met with a year-long suspension. These are huge stumbling blocks in the way of people who might call for help.

For anybody interested in seeing an amnesty policy that works, I suggest looking at Cornell University’s program. It is clear and concise. An individual in need of assistance is protected from judicial punishments for underage alcohol consumption and disorderly conduct. The individual making the call is protected from punishment for underage consumption, providing alcohol to a minor, and disorderly conduct. Finally, there are certain protections for organizations, such as fraternities hosting a party at which somebody needs assistance. This should be a model for an overhaul of GW’s policies.

I have written about this issue before, but it is not one that can continue to go unnoticed. I find it hard to believe it has not garnered more attention. The solutions are good for everybody in Foggy Bottom. A proper revision of the policy would mean students have more protections and are treated with more respect in the process. It would also mean administrators can rest easier at night with the knowledge that students would be encouraged to call for help when necessary. But for now, our elected student advocates are spending multiple sessions debating non-binding housing resolutions. And our administrators seem to be happy with the appearance that we have a good policy, without really looking at the incentives created. It’s too bad everybody seems unconcerned with a policy, when the whole thing is just a sham.

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

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