October 31, 2012

Aiming for Spring Launch, ‘Watchers’ Plan Advances

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A new campus group that will send unidentified students to monitor parties for possible health emergencies began recruiting members last week with the goal of having the program ready to launch by the start of the spring semester, student organizers said.

Hannah James ’15, the vice president of recruitment for Cayuga’s Watchers, said that the executive board hopes to hire 50 to 100 “Watchers” to attend and monitor risky behavior at on- and off-campus parties, at the hosts’ request. The board will select its first round of Watchers after the application period ends next month, James said.

“We’re looking for community-minded students — ideally sophomores and juniors who understand the social scene, but the application is open to the whole campus — who want to help their friends have fun in a safe environment,” James said. “This is a job opportunity. The Watchers will be trained to intervene, in a non-confrontational manner, only in situations where intervening is necessary.”

All accepted Watchers will be trained to be “risk identifiers”: individuals who identify high-risk situations and carry out an established protocol in the case of emergency, said Ryan Schiedo ’13, the Watchers’ vice president of training.

“We are outlining [different] situations, [such as one] in which you would call 911 immediately and one in which you would call the host first and make an informed decision together,” Schiedo said. “For instance, say a Watcher spots someone who’s semi-conscious and then vomits. We would call 911 first, then send a text to all the other Watchers and simultaneously contact the party’s host to let them know there’s an ambulance coming.”

Schiedo emphasized that no formal protocols have yet been adopted by the group.

Contrary to some students’ perception of the program, it is not designed to interfere with campus social life or to punish students for drinking, said Mike Ostro ’15, the Watchers’ vice president of outreach.

“I’ve seen some confusion expressed from students about the role or aid of the Watchers. We are not a spy organization,” Ostro said. “The [party] hosts know we’re there. They invite us and know the breadth of our responsibilities. If it wasn’t to the hosts’ advantage, they would have no reason to employ our services.”

Those responsibilities will be clearly underscored during an extensive training program that each Watcher will be required to complete, according to Schiedo. Additionally, Watchers will need to pass a mandatory exam — in the form of a trial period spanning one or two weeks — at the end of the training program to evaluate their preparedness, he said.

“Next semester, when we have our first group of Watchers, we are going to bring in representatives from campus organizations to expand on their training,” Schiedo said. “For instance, we’ll have a representative from EARS come in and lecture the new Watchers on how to talk with someone who has been drinking. Similarly, Gannett [officials] will explain the effects of alcohol on the frontal lobe and the body.”

Gannett Health Services representatives are eager to coordinate programs with the Watchers to help increase students’ ability to recognize and respond to risky situations, said Tim Marchell ’82, director of mental health initiatives at Gannett.

“Watchers will need to understand how to recognize when there is a potential problem and how to effectively engage the people involved,” Marchell said. “That might mean stepping in to get a severely intoxicated person from doing another round of shots. Or it might involve getting a guy’s friends to stop him from trying to have sex with someone who can barely stand.”

Marchell said he believes the program is a positive step toward reaching those goals.

“The strength of Cayuga’s Watchers is that it will put trained students right into the parties where problems like alcohol poisoning can arise,” Marchell said. “The program formalizes the concept of pro-social bystander behavior by embedding students who are prepared to take action rather than passively stand by when there is a problem.”

Cayuga’s Watchers President Eric Silverberg ’14 encouraged students — both Greek and non-Greek — to apply to become Watchers.

“Ultimately, our long term goal is to have enough Watchers [so] that for any given event, we’ll be able to send someone who is actually a member of the organization hosting the party,” Silverberg said.

Schiedo said that there is not currently a requirement for applicants to be certified in either First Aid or CPR, but added that the Watchers hope to eventually recruit students who possess those skills.

Over time, the Watchers executive board hopes to bring the fledgling organization to a point where it can substantially influence Cornell’s campus by reducing risk and promoting a safer social culture, Schiedo said.

“If we can be effective in enhancing student safety and keep them from going to the hospital, Greek life might be able to survive on this campus,” added Schiedo, who is in a fraternity. “I am very excited. This might even create a way for freshmen to party again.”

Original Author: Harrison Okin