THE PLANK APRIL 22, 2009
The WaPo reports that the University of Maryland is considering joining the 100 or so colleges who have implemented good Samaritan rules regarding alcohol use by students. This would, in a nutshell, dramatically reduce penalties for students who seek medical aid for a friend in the event of dangerous overdrinking. Under the version being voted on by the U. Md. senate tomorrow, students could have university sanctions dropped if they met with school administrators and agreed to attend an alcohol intervention program.
This strikes me as highly sensible (though I might skip the intervention program). As things stand, drunk students, especially underaged ones, often delay or avoid calling for help out of fear of getting themselves in trouble with either the police or the university. I myself recall an incident from college where some gals from my residence hall, rather than call for help, opted to toss a passed-out dormmate into a pilfered grocery cart and dump her at the university hospital's emergency room.
Needless to say, the problem is compounded by the fact that, by definition, the judgment of these students is impaired at the time, making it that much harder for them to sort through the well-if-i-call-911-or-my-RA-i'll-get-busted-but-if-i-don't-then-Topher-could-drown-here-in-a-puddle-of-his-own-vomit issues. College kids are already inclined to assume that their buddy will be able to "sleep it off." They don't need the threat of disiplinary measures to tilt the scales any further in that direction.
Tragically, the folks at U. Md. know the risks: A few years back, a student died of alcohol poisoning, ostensibly
because his frat brothers delayed calling the paramedics for too long
after the kid drank himself unconscious. Even so, progress on the issue has been slow and fitful. The Post notes, "Students began advocating a new policy in 2007, but the issue died in committee
at the university senate, whose 166 voting members include faculty, students and
staff members. Many senators were vehemently opposed, saying a new policy would
create a more permissive environment for drinking, said Brad Docherty, a senior
and a member of the senate who led the working group on the issue."
Heavy sigh. How often do adults leave kids at risk out of fear that we're going to look insufficiently disapproving about an activity that we know a large number of them are already engaged in? (Safe sex, anyone?) We're not talking about letting kids off the hook if they get randomly busted for violating the school's alcohol policy. This is about removing barriers to a student's phoning an EMT when they think there's a real risk that a friend may not wake up from this particular Cuervo-induced blackout.
Here's hoping the U. Md. senate manages to seal this deal this time around.