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Alcohol and Amnesty

Campus | October 21, 2013

Two new provisions to Tufts’ drug and alcohol policy in the 2013-2014 Student Handbook make calling for help in alcohol-related medical incidents a more viable option than in years past. The previous policy did not formally include the “Good Samaritan Policy” or the “Amnesty Approach.”

Dean of Campus Life and Leadership and acting Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman explained that a task force of students and leaders in various departments “tweaked” the old policy in May and June of last year. The task force’s recommendations were considered, and some of them added to the official policy by a committee that Reitman chaired.

“We’ve formalized [the “Good Samaritan Policy,]” even though in the past the RAs and the police wouldn’t write up anybody who happened to be present when someone called for help,” he said.

The Good Samaritan Policy states that “No one who seeks medical assistance for themselves or for others will be subject to disciplinary action specifically for their own use of alcohol or small amounts of marijuana.” The Amnesty Approach protects students who need medical assistance from “judicial sanctions.” Students who receive medical treatment must meet with a professional in the Alcohol and Health Education division of Health Services for “screening and substance use counseling.” A second incident resulting in medical treatment will warrant  another meeting with a Health Services professional, as well as a meeting with a family member or guardian. A third episode will result in a medical leave for the student to “address the substance use.” Essentially, students who call for medical assistance, or require it themselves, due to over-intoxication will not face probation or punishment as long as their actions do not violate the Code of Conduct. Such violations would include: public consumption of alcohol, and dealing or trafficking illegal drugs.

Reitman said that this new non-judicial “medical model” is kept separate from the Code of Conduct; that is, a student can receive medical treatment and face no punishments as a result, but there may be disciplinary action taken for his or her violations to the Code of Conduct.

“This community will always have between 90 and 150 cases each year, no matter the policy, because we are a caring community. If you’re a friend of somebody that you know is in trouble, people call to get help for that student. Is that a good thing? Yes, that’s a good thing. Is it ideal? I think no. Ideally, people would recognize that friendship includes stopping people from getting to the point of needing that hospitalization,” Reitman said.

Reitman explained that most people who need medical intervention once due to intoxication do not repeat their actions. “It seems that most people—once they have one of these embarrassing encounters and need medical intervention and have to explain to families—figure out that it’s not worth it because there’s not much glory in it and it’s dangerous,” he said.

Student reaction to the new policies has been generally positive. Sophomore Allie Wainer thinks that the new rules will increase the number of people calling for help. “I learned from high school health class to call the police or someone when there’s a problem, when someone’s feeling sick, so it just makes sense that there’s no academic punishment or probation,” she said.

She added that some of her friends “felt almost ashamed” last year when they needed TEMS assistance. “I don’t think the shame will completely go away but if your friend’s not going to get in trouble then people will definitely be more likely to call. I’ve heard about situations in which people were hesitant to call,” Wainer said.

Junior Dylan Pond was surprised when, as a freshman, he learned that the university did not have a formal, codified Good Samaritan Policy. “I believe that Tufts students always look out for each other, whether in the classroom, on a team, or in a club. Both policies make sure we can look out for our fellow Jumbos without the fear of repercussions,” Pond said.

Pond believes that now, Jumbos will bemore comfortable when seeking help. He said, “I have never witnessed a student hesitating to call. I have discussed the old policy a lot with friends and we all felt that it fostered a dangerous culture. I am proud that Tufts has written a new policy that prioritizes safety.”

The goal is for these new provisions to stop any hesitation students may have experienced previously in calling for help in emergency situations. Students seem to agree that the changes are a step in the right direction for students’ safety on campus.

Reitman does not feel that the policy is “indicative of success” because bystanders on campus still allow their peers and friends to reach a dangerous level of drunkenness. He said, “The most important message that I can get out is that it’s great to be a good friend and call for medical help, but you’d be a much better friend to avoid them needing that medical intervention. Medical intervention works, but part of it is luck, and I never want to lose a student from this campus.”