April 4, 2016

BHANDARI and BROWN | Medical Amnesty Conundrum

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Colleges across the country struggle with the issue of high risk drinking. With their newfound freedom, undergraduate students are uniquely susceptible to dangerous drinking habits that can put their lives at risk and lead to a myriad of unintended negative consequences. Administrators and university policy makers are often put in the bind of adopting policies that both enforce laws and encourage students to be safe, while also recognizing the reality of alcohol use on college campuses and the need for pragmatic solutions that encourage students to request medical attention when it is needed.

Our University is unique in the way that it addresses high risk drinking — largely because of its Medical Amnesty Protocol, which allows for students to call for emergency services and receive care, while removing any liability from other illicit violations such as underage drinking or possession of alcohol or other drugs. In creating Medical Amnesty Protocol, the University took a bold step to encourage students to consider their safety and well-being above the fear of getting in trouble.

As the first university to conduct a comprehensive study of high risk drinking and the direct impacts of the Medical Amnesty Protocol, Cornell played a particular role in this program since its conception. This study found that the implementation of Medical Amnesty Protocol had correlated with an increase in the reported likelihood that students would call for help in alcohol-related medical emergencies. Cornell’s study eventually led universities across the country to adopt Medical Amnesty Protocol. Then, in 2012, this policy was then changed to be called “Good Samaritan Protocol,” to more closely reflect New York State law.

Medical Amnesty Protocol has certainly had its benefits — it has begun to make students feel more comfortable calling for medical attention. However, significant stigmas still exist that prevent students and organizations from making the right decision to call for help. Furthermore, there is an even greater stigma amongst Greek students that if they report a medical emergency on behalf of themselves or a brother or sister, it will expose their chapter to a host of penalties and judicial consequences. In reality, Medical Amnesty Protocol does indeed apply to Greek organizations for medical emergencies. However, the policy does not protect situations related hazing, sexual violence, fake identification, harassment, causing or threatening physical harm, damage to property or unlawful provision of alcohol or other drugs.

As students eager to promote a culture and policy framework that promotes calling for help, we perceive a balancing act — finding a way to encourage our peers to know that they should call for help, while also appropriately penalizing illicit behavior. Within the Greek system, chapter offenses are directed to either the Greek Judicial Board, composed of students, or for more serious cases,  the University Review Board, composed of administrators. The current judicial system in place allows for flexibility for cases where the offenses do not rise to the level of meriting a significant penal consequence.

Our concern for this issue is based in our personal experiences and ongoing conversations with our peers. We recognize that many students do not call for help — even under dire circumstances — and we are eager to change that. We plan to holistically address the issue of the use of Medical Amnesty Protocol, starting with a survey sent to students throughout campus, both Greeks and non-Greeks, as well as athletes, to assess their familiarity and comfort with this policy. While addressing stigmas and legal barriers to full implementation of this policy is multi-faceted, we believe that Cornell’s main priority should be to keep students safe.

Yamini Bhandari is the student-elected undergraduate trustee. She can be reached at [email protected]. Blake Brown is the president of the Interfraternity Council. He can be reached at [email protected] Trustee Viewpoint appears alternating Tuesdays this semester.