September 15, 2021

LORENZEN | Cornell Should Establish a No Consequence Ride Service for Drunk Students

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It’s a familiar sight. Two friends wander through Collegetown on a late night. One of them holds the other up. It’s a struggle. The drunk friend can barely stand, let alone walk. They occasionally veer off the sidewalk and into the street. The few passersby still out at this time of night eye them, hoping that the drunk person’s friend really is a friend. Maybe a passerby even offers to help, taking the drunk stranger’s other shoulder and helping to carry them through the night. But even with two people, they can just barely make it.

This year, I moved into a new apartment in the heart of Collegetown. From my room, there’s a small balcony that overlooks the street. The scene described above is one I see multiple times each Friday and Saturday night. I always knew that it happened. I’ve made that walk myself, trying to get a friend who’s had a bit too much to drink home safely. I’ve been the passerby, offering to help someone who seems like they’re in over their head. But seeing it from my balcony each weekend night as a senior — one whose time here has included far too many accidents involving students endangering themselves or others while intoxicated — I find myself angry.

I’m not angry at the students. I’m angry at the university for not doing enough to support them. We can sit around and pretend that a brief alcohol education webinar presented to pre-freshmen will halt underage drinking in its tracks, but the reality is that college students are going to drink. And many of them, particularly those having their first experiences with alcohol, will drink far too much. If Cornell is going to create a safe campus environment, they need to take larger steps to accept the reality and create policies to ensure that when students make mistakes with alcohol, those mistakes don’t lead to injury or worse.

Cornell’s Good Samaritan Protocol is an excellent start. This protocol allows students to call 911 if a student “may have had too much to drink, is having an adverse reaction to a drug, or if they have sustained a head injury while drinking or using other drugs” without disciplinary repercussions for underage drinking or drug consumption. It is a policy that functions remarkably well to ensure students receive rapid medical care when needed. I’ve seen it work, and I’d urge any student who is unsure whether to call 911 in a similar situation to make the call and trust in “Good Sam” (click here for more information on the signs of an alcohol emergency and here for a guide to available resources).

But for every student who clearly needs a 911 call, there are another twenty who fit into a messier category — those who are intoxicated enough such that they need help getting home but aren’t experiencing anything close to a medical emergency. They are the students being carried home late at night. There is no policy to protect them.

Friends of these students trying to get them home currently have three options. If they have a car, they can drive. But this option immediately goes out the window if they’ve had a drink themselves, which is usually the case if they were with the friend at the time they became intoxicated. Secondly, they can take the TCAT free of charge to get home — a great option at surface level. But navigating TCAT routes sober is difficult enough, and many students may simply be uncomfortable being intoxicated on public transportation, worried they may be embarrassed if they run into someone they know or have to vomit. Thirdly, they can walk home — the option that most students take. 

These walks are dangerous. The intoxicated student can fall and seriously injure themselves. They can end up in the middle of the street, risking an accident. And there may not be a friendly passerby trying to do the right thing — there may instead be someone trying to take advantage of a bad situation. It’s not a good dynamic for students. And it’s not a good dynamic for the University.

That’s why we need a ride service specifically designed to get intoxicated students home safely with the same protections as “Good Sam.” A Cornell hired, vetted and trained driver pulls up and helps the students into the car. If a student is nauseous, they give them a bag. They drive them to their apartment, house or dorm. And they watch to make sure the student gets inside their building safely. If the intoxicated student worsens and requires medical attention at any point during the drive, the driver calls 911.

This system does not provide a permission structure for students to drink in excess — it creates a safety net to ensure that when students inevitably miscalculate their alcohol intake, they are supported rather than subjected to a potentially dangerous trek home. These logistics are not insurmountable for a university that has spent a year managing a sprawling system of COVID-19 testing and quarantining. And Cornell being leery of liability can’t be a reason not to institute a system that better supports students and creates a safer campus environment.

There is a larger foundational problem with the drinking culture at Cornell, endemic to many other universities as well, where binge drinking comes to be seen as a norm, not an outlier. It’s a broader issue that the university should take further steps to address. But meeting basic challenges, such as getting intoxicated students home safely, is the first step to solving a much larger problem.

The familiar sight from my balcony does not need to be a familiar sight. We don’t need to have an expectation of students drunkenly carrying each other home on a regular basis. The University has the capacity to create a system that keeps students safer — Cornell should step up.

Andrew Lorenzen is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. When We’re Sixty Four runs every other Wednesday this semester.