January 27, 2003

C.U. Medical Amnesty Gives Students Break

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When an emergency erupts involving underage students and alcohol, Cornell University officials are encouraging students to put the health of their peers above their fears of punishment.

University officials initiated the Medical Amnesty Protocol (MAP) last fall with the support of students and faculty in an effort to reduce the harmful consequences of alcohol related emergencies on campus. Medical Amnesty is not extended to Collegetown or other off-campus locations, although the Ithaca Police Department is aware of the policy and may choose to exercise it, according to Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant JD ’88.

“Over the past few decades at colleges across the country, there have been an increasing number of alcohol related injuries and death,” said Jessica Skrebes ’04, student representative for the Policies and Behavioral Accountability Committee of the President’s Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs (PABAC), the team that developed the protocol.

“The purpose of the MAP is to increase the likelihood that students will call for medical help whenever someone has alcohol poisoning,” said Tim Marchell, director of alcohol policy initiatives at Gannett: Cornell University Health Services.

According to Marchell, some students avoid calling for help in alcohol-related medical emergencies out of fear they will suffer judicial consequences for underage possession of alcohol or disorderly conduct.

“Since alcohol poisoning can be fatal, we wanted to reduce the barriers to people calling for assistance,” he said.

The person who calls for help is not subject to judicial charges of underage possession, provision of alcohol to an underage person or disorderly conduct, according to Marchell.

“We’re not going to get you in trouble for doing the right thing,” Grant said.

If the incident occurs at an on campus event, the host of the organization is expected to call for help, and his or her action will “mitigate any judicial charges that might arise against the organization for Campus Code of Conduct violations that may have been committed,” Marchell said. “By contrast, if no one calls for help, it’s considered an aggravating circumstance and may affect the judicial resolution if any Code violations occurred at the time.”

The MAP also excuses an individual who receives medical attention related to alcohol consumption from judicial action if he or she completes a required follow-up visit at Gannet, according to Grant.

“The University’s primary concern is for the health and safety of students, and [the University] aims to reduce the risk that someone will get severely intoxicated again,” Marchell said.

Grant noted that while an individual receiving amnesty is issued a warning rather than a written reprimand and is excused from having to meet with the Judicial Administrator, the MAP still mandates education for the person who has had too much to drink.

The individual receiving amnesty is required to attend a follow-up session at Gannett but is not required to pay for Gannett’s services, Grant said.

Marchell noted that last year the Cayuga Medical Center treated 80 students for alcohol related emergencies, excluding the students treated on Slope Day.

“With the MAP, we may see a short term increase in the number of cases seen at Cayuga Medical Center, but in the long run, we’d like to see those numbers drop as students realize the risks of getting severely intoxicated,” Marchell said.

The concept for the protocol started in the fall of 2001 when Renaissance, a grassroots student advocacy group, pushed for the development and implementation of a medical amnesty clause, according to Justin McEvily ’03, co-president of Renaissance and the student representative for PABAC.

“Through informal surveys, it came to light that the student body was in favor of such an initiative, so Renaissance added this sentiment to the already growing supportive voice of some administrators and health promotion staff who were exploring the possibility of implementing such a policy,” McEvily said.

Though the MAP supports the University’s goal to keep students safe and healthy, some students were concerned that “the MAP might be perceived as condoning underage drinking, but there’s a tension we chose to live with between our commitment to enforce the policy and the need to get people medical help,” Marchell explained.

Though the MAP exempts an individual receiving medical emergency attention for alcohol related emergencies upon completion of Gannett’s follow-up service, the MAP does not excuse all aspects of underage drinking.

The MAP is designed to address the harmful consequences of intoxication or injury related to consuming alcohol, but “it does not provide exemption from more serious charges, such as an assault that may be related to drinking or the possession of fake identification,” Marchell said.

Archived article by Janet Liao