September 4, 2012

Editorial: A New MAP for Cornell Alcohol Policy

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Since 2002, the Medical Amnesty Policy has been an important tool for helping to keep Cornellians safe. It has given students the ability to call for help when a friend is seriously ill from alcohol poisoning without fearing the consequences of underage drinking laws. Recently, this policy was brought in line with New York State’s new Good Samaritan law, effectively expanding Cornell’s amnesty policy to include calls that arise from drug use as well. This is a welcome shift in the Medical Amnesty Policy and will make the campus safer.

Since Cornell first began its Medical Amnesty Policy in 2002, the number of alcohol-related phone calls has increased while the percentage of those calls that has required medical transport has declined. In 2001, before the policy was enacted, there were 63 alcohol-related calls to Cornell University Emergency Medical Service, of which 62 percent resulted in medical transports. Last year, there were 174 alcohol-related calls, of which 54 resulted in medical transport, according to data from Gannett Health Services. While the data shows that the number of medical transports has continued to rise, it also suggests an increased willingness to call for help for a student in need.

While the expansion of the policy is promising, this climbing number of medical transports on campus should continue to worry Cornellians. While a strong Medical Amnesty Policy that includes protection from persecution for both underage alcohol consumption and other drug use is a positive step toward a solution, it is not sufficient to ensure student safety. The University must also work to create safe spaces for underage students to spend their weekends. The University needs to seriously assess the extent to which new policies regarding the Greek System have simply shifted risky drinking elsewhere.

We hope that one of these safe spaces will be the Bear’s Den pub, which opens Wednesday and will serve as a location where students both over and under 21 years old will be able to interact in a setting where alcohol is served and monitored. We hope that this will become a place where older students can relax with a beer in hand and younger students can enjoy late-night programming. We believe that it is this over-under policy that will most actively create safe spaces for students and decrease the number of medical transports.

It is not enough for the University to provide help for these incidents only after they happen; it must work to ensure that students do not require medical transport in the first place. Instead of an outright ban on freshmen at fraternity parties, perhaps an over-under policy that is actually enforced will help mitigate some of the problems and make the campus even safer.