Addiction assessments added to Student Judicial Services

This academic year, students transported to GW Hospital for a second alcohol violation will be assessed by University counselors for alcoholism prior to a disciplinary hearing, a policy change intended to decrease the number of students who are temporarily suspended from the University.

During the 2009-2010 academic year, 19 students either withdrew from the University or were suspended for a semester as a result of being transported to GW Hospital due to alcohol-related reasons for a second time. Sixteen students left GW the year before for the same reason.

So far, two students have been transported to the hospital this year for second violations. Neither has left the University.

“We were finding that most students’ diagnosis would be remedied with education,” Assistant Dean of Students and head of SJS Tara Pereira said. “We thought, ‘Do you really need two semesters away from the University to get 10-15 hours of education?'”

Pereira said the policy change was sparked by a review of suspension numbers this summer in which medical professionals determined that in most of those cases, offering alcohol education in lieu of suspension was an appropriate course of action.</p

“In the past, the most likely outcome of two hospitalizations within one calendar year was suspension or a withdrawal from the University,” Pereira said, adding that situations are typically judged on a case-by-case basis and there has never been a blanket policy absolutely guaranteeing suspension.

Beginning this semester and onwards, the medical evaluations will assess whether or not a student has an alcohol problem that inhibits his or her ability to attend GW before SJS holds a hearing. Pereira said this measure does not necessarily guarantee that no one will be suspended.

“That’s the process that’s set in stone, but the outcome can’t be set in stone because everyone has different circumstances,” Pereira said.

Pereira said suspensions can still be issued if the medical evaluations find that a student needs an inpatient treatment program, but added that it is uncommon for SJS to determine that a student needs to attend a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.

“If approximately 65 percent of our cases are drug and alcohol related, and only 10 or so students in eight years have needed that level of treatment, that’s another reason we scaled back,” Pereira said.

Pereira said another factor in the policy revision was to encourage more students to take friends to the hospital if necessary and not worry about suspension from the University.

“The most important thing is the health and safety of that student who needs to go to the hospital,” Pereira said.

Freshman Emily Connatser said the new SJS policy will probably educate more students on drinking and alcohol use, but may facilitate more violations.

“I think the University is going to allow more people to break the law with fewer consequences,” Connatser said. “If a friend is in serious danger, I think they should be taken to the hospital no matter what the consequences might be.”

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