January 30, 2013

EDITORIAL: The Boundaries of Amnesty

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As the issues surrounding high-risk drinking and hazing continue to dominate campus dialogue, the role of medical amnesty inevitably enters the conversation. Some have argued that medical amnesty should shield organizations from punishment for all behavior — including hazing — that is uncovered as a result of a medical emergency call. And many in the Cornell community are unaware that amnesty is not so comprehensive. The University must combat this misconception that medical amnesty can be used to protect hazing. First, it must educate the community on the limits of amnesty protocols. Doing so will allow the University to place the onus on student organizations — from Greek chapters to athletic teams to musical groups — to eradicate the behavior that leads to these alcohol- and drug-related emergencies in the first place.

In September 2011, New York State passed its Good Samaritan Law, under which students on- and off-campus can seek protection from underage drinking charges if they call 911 on behalf of an individual in need. The policy complemented Cornell’s existing protocol, which similarly protects students from being penalized by the Judicial Administrator. But these protocols do not ensure blanket amnesty for entire student organizations whose medical emergencies are the result of illegal hazing activity; nor should the University offer such protection to these groups.

We support the use of medical amnesty as applied to individuals. We emphatically encourage students to act morally and intelligently in emergency situations by calling 911, knowing that they will face neither legal nor collegiate judicial consequences for making that decision. Efforts by the Greek governing councils, the Student Assembly and the administration to spread awareness about the importance of calling for help are noteworthy and have helped to increase safety at Cornell. But they have not gone far enough in elucidating the boundaries of amnesty protocols. The gift of amnesty — and it is a gift — cannot be exploited as a safeguard against punishment for engaging in humiliating, dehumanizing or otherwise abusive behavior against fellow Cornellians.

The word “amnesty” carries a weighty connotation. Its implication is that it is all-encompassing, but students should know that certain egregious actions will be met with consequences. The University has not done enough to clear the fog surrounding medical amnesty policies. These protocols have been in place for months without proper education, and we believe that this oversight has led some groups to act as though they are beyond sanction. In the aftermath of crackdowns on hazing, including the recent expulsion of one fraternity and the suspension of several others, the administration is just now beginning to shed light on what medical amnesty truly means for students. Although we wish these clarifications had come sooner, we commend the University for taking the necessary steps toward denying student organizations an auspice under which to continue hazing.