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Forgive me father, for I am drunk

Amnesty program might spread to Appalachian State

by Morgan Little,
To combat the problem of student alcohol habits, universities across the country have instituted policies ranging from the draconian to the laissez-faire.

The Student Government Association at Appalachian State University recently proposed a change in the way it treats the liabilities of those who request assistance as a result of illegal activity.

Under the legislation, amnesty would be granted to students if they request medical help while intoxicated, regardless of whether the request is for themselves or another student.

Educational programs are lined up for after the student receives treatment, but typical punitive measures, such as fines and academic probation,are off the table.

The policy bears some similarities to Elon’s “Good Samaritan rule,” enacted in August 2007, in which a student calling for medical aid will not be held accountable for their own violations of Elon’s alcohol policy.

The key difference lies in the necessity of a second party.

Under Elon’s policy, students calling for their own assistance are fully liable for punitive measures.

These measures, for a first offense, include “disciplinary probation with possible disciplinary suspension for one year, a $150 to $300 fine, 30 campus restitution hours and restitution,” according to the student handbook.

In truth, Appalachian State’s proposed change more closely resembles Cornell University’s Medical Amnesty Protocol, instituted in 2002. Under the policy, calls to emergency medial services increased, while decreasing the number of alcohol intoxication cases treated in the emergency room.

The effects of Elon’s own revised policy have been less clear.

Judicial Affairs Coordinator Whitney Gregory, speaking anecdotally, said students have been more likely to call for help knowing they won’t be punished, but there are no statistics on the matter as the actual occurrences are so uncommon.

Under the “Good Samaritan rule,” students are heavily encouraged to assist dangerously intoxicated companions. Refusing to do so, for whatever reason, can lead to the same punishments as engaging in the illegal behaviors.

An ongoing study conducted by psychology professor Mark Kline surveyed the results of undergraduate drinking over four consecutive weeks at Elon. Kline’s study was inspired by a desire to understand what positive effects students derive from drinking to better understand why they drink in the first place.

The survey reveals both the scope of drinking at Elon and sheds some myths regarding drinking habits.

Slightly less than 40 percent of students have engaged in binge drinking, 15 percent binge drink weekly and the drinking habits of Greek organizations or sports teams are marginally smaller in comparison with the rest of campus.

Each of the amnesty policies, from the MAP, Good Samaritan or Appalachian State, strictly pertain to alcohol-related violations.

Behavior incurred by drug use and then reported to authorities for the purpose of medical assistance is given no protection at all, whether or not the assistance is requested for the student calling or someone else.

The “Good Samaritan rule” didn’t come easily to Elon’s rulebooks.

“As with any debate, there is a split in viewpoints,” Gregory said.

The main fissure lies between those in agreement with the policy, who think  calling for help should not be something to be feared.

There is still a contingent that believes the rule is a matter of fairness and that if the caller is intoxicated, whether they’re underage or of age and on campus, there  needs to be a punitive response from the university.

The change in policy is up in the legislative air at the moment, but Appalachian State’s administration is currently weighing in on the proposal, and the changes could be implemented in fall 2010.