With Senate support, medical amnesty push moves ahead
Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 06:03
The Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate at its meeting on Feb. 24 unanimously approved a project to push for the addition of clauses to the university’s alcohol policy eliminating university judicial consequences for students who receive treatment from Tufts Emergency Medical Services (TEMS) for intoxication and for those who call TEMS.
The proposed ‘Good Samaritan’ and ‘Medical Amnesty’ clauses were submitted by Latino Center Community Representative Marcy Regalado, who said she intends with the project to reform the policy to bring it up to date.
“[Tufts’] alcohol culture as a whole needs to get a blast of education, and I feel that with the policy having this Good Samaritan and Medical Amnesty clause added in, it’ll give a lot of leeway to having that education,” Regalado, a sophomore, said, noting that institutions like Cornell University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University have successfully implemented Good Samaritan policies.
Tufts’ current alcohol policy, which last underwent major revision in 2011, states that first-time offenders will receive a warning instead of automatically being put on Disciplinary Probation One (pro-one), according to Director of Alcohol and Health Education Ian Wong.
Students who fail to meet with Wong and Judicial Affairs Officer Veronica Carter within two weeks of the incident will be placed on pro-one.
Wong said this policy reflects leniency in the system that is complicated by a matter of wording.
“We really do have an amnesty policy,” he said. “I just don’t like the term ‘amnesty’ because ‘amnesty’ always sounds like nothing’s ever going happen — that it’s a clean slate.” That’s not the case of typical policies that allow for amnesty, he said.
“The other schools [with amnesty policies] are tracking you too. We’re just being a little bit more honest. In reality, the technical term for what we do is ‘diversion.’”
Multiple offenses can result in a mandatory yearlong medical leave from Tufts, which students often mistake for suspension or expulsion, Wong said.
“No one gets suspended or expelled for their alcohol use, but they could [be suspended] for their behavior while they’re drinking,” he said.
Regalado said that the Good Samaritan and Medical Amnesty clauses would not shield students from disciplinary repercussions for other violations committed while intoxicated, such as property damage and disorderly conduct.
“If you are under the influence and you broke a window, you won’t get in trouble for the drinking part, but you’ll still get in trouble for the breaking a window portion,” she said.
Relgado added that the current policy is too severe for offenders who may be educated about alcohol abuse but get into trouble due to bad luck.
“If it’s people that forget to count one or two times throughout the school year, and they have the unfortunate event of getting TEMSed, but they’re educated [about alcohol use], I don’t think it’s fair for someone to get in trouble for that,” she said.
Wong emphasized that the current warning system helps the school recognize if a student has a substance abuse disorder that must be treated.
“How do you look at a parent and say, ‘We knew this happened before, but everyone gets a free try the first time, and unfortunately the second time your daughter didn’t make it’?” he said.
“If we know all this stuff, we need to do something to help those people with a problem,” Wong added.
The university is open to hearing students’ proposals for medical amnesty proposals if the policy meets federal and state guidelines and adheres to the goal of lowering the binge drinking rate on campus, Wong said.
“We would consider anything,” he said. “The big thing we’re looking at is how to reduce the rates of binge drinking and how to help people with substance abuse disorder.”
A student group called Medical Amnesty Policy at Tufts (MAPAT), an offshoot of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), has also been advocating for implementation of such a policy.
The group last month sent out an online survey to gauge student interest in medical amnesty, according to MAPAT leader and SSDP secretary Carolyn Flax.
The survey has received 567 responses as of press time, Flax said, with 93.55 percent of respondents in support of a medical amnesty policy and 94.21 percent answering that they would be more likely to call TEMS for alcohol-related issues if such a policy existed.
“All we’re looking to change is that we want to take the disciplinary probation side out of the equation,” Flax, a sophomore, said.