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Observer Editorial: An expectation to be educated

| Friday, September 2, 2016

It’s the second Friday of the school year. Classes are over for the week and homework hasn’t piled up too high yet, so new and returning students will be taking advantage of on- and off-campus nightlife.

For the majority of new students, college life is a significant departure from that of high school, and requires adjustments both in perspective and behavior. In particular, a majority of new students will enter environments where alcohol takes a more prominent role than it did in their high school years.

And with exposure to alcohol comes the possibility — not only for freshmen, but also for all other students — of finding themselves in alcohol-related emergency situations.

The natural reaction to such an emergency should be to seek out medical assistance for a friend in danger. However, fear of potential consequences — either for their friend or themselves — can cause students to waste time in critical situations.

The University’s Expectation of Responsibility policy, which took effect at the beginning of last year, is an attempt to address this fear and thus encourages students to call for help. However, the policy is neither particularly well explained nor entirely sufficient, as provisions in the rule could serve to incentivize inaction, rather than action, during demanding situations. Of particular concern is the University’s failure to clearly inform students what will happen to them in a medical emergency, either as good Samaritans or those in need of assistance. The policy groups potential outcomes for students into seemingly ambiguous and unfamiliar categories, which, without closely reading Du Lac, students are unlikely to know.

The policy states that when an underage student seeks help as a good Samaritan — either through contacting Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP), residence hall staff or local law enforcement — he or she will be subject to “formative” and/or “professional referral” outcomes that can range from in-dorm meetings to alcohol counseling and a psychological examination. While these outcomes should not be scoffed at, they aren’t as serious as many with only a rudimentary knowledge of the policy may think.

Where the student in need of attention is concerned, however, the disciplinary outcomes can be significantly more severe, so much so that students concerned about a friend’s health may hesitate before seeking emergency assistance. Besides “formative” and “professional referral” outcomes, the student in need of medical attention is also subject to “administrative” and “loss of privilege” outcomes, the latter of which could include the loss of on-campus housing.

To act as if that clause is not a deterrent for students to seek help is naive on the part of Notre Dame. If a student knows his or her actions might cause a good friend to be kicked off campus, that student might not make the necessary, life-saving call. Where the policy aims to “remove barriers” to action, it, in some ways, could do the opposite: create hesitation during a situation where every second could be the difference between life and death.

Drinking is far from just being an on-campus problem, though. In the case of an off-campus emergency, students will interact with the South Bend authorities, not NDSP. This brings into consideration a new set of rules and laws, many of which out-of-state (and some in-state) students may not be familiar with.

Notre Dame needs to make more than passing references to Indiana’s Lifeline Law, which purports to provide “immunity for the crimes of public intoxication, minor in possession, minor in consumption and similar laws, to persons who identify themselves to law enforcement while seeking medical assistance for a person suffering from an alcohol-related health emergency.” The law, which requires individuals to demonstrate they are acting in good faith to receive immunity, also applies to victims of sexual assault and those reporting what they believe to be crimes. But if students aren’t properly informed of the law and the immunities it grants, the law becomes meaningless.

Unlike Notre Dame, which added the Expectation of Responsibility two years after Indiana passed the Lifeline Law, Saint Mary’s has been more proactive on the issue. The College instituted a Good Samaritan policy three years before Indiana passed its Lifeline Law, and currently makes a more concerted effort to encourage its incoming first-year students to call 911 in case of an emergency. Saint Mary’s also implemented a Medical Amnesty policy, which protects students from disciplinary actions if they call for help for themselves. Under both the Medical Amnesty and the Good Samaritan policies, disciplinary action will only be taken when a student fails to seek medical assistance “when it is clearly needed.”

The College should be commended for taking a stance that actively seeks to prevent tragedy, however there is still more work to be done to ensure that every student knows this policy exists.

While the Lifeline Law and similar policies are necessary steps toward preventing tragedy, lack of knowledge about such policies, as well as the fear of getting a friend or themselves in trouble, could be reason enough for students not to make the call.

Ultimately, students shouldn’t have to sift through confusing policies and oft-unfamiliar state laws to have an idea of what to do in an emergency. When we were in high school, we routinely had fire drills and tornado drills so emergency response would become second nature. The University should create an atmosphere where that’s the case for alcohol-related incidents, too. Notre Dame needs to be a place where students fully understand the options available to them — both University and state-driven — when a fellow student is in need of medical attention. And when both the College and University hand out punishments, their policies need to be clear regarding the student who needs medical attention to remove all reason for hesitation from the situation.

Notre Dame has the power to prevent unnecessary student deaths, but if their policies remain unclear and unknown to students, the results could be tragic.

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  • And the point of this “editorial” is what – “Don’t puke on someone you don’t know, otherwise you MAY be held accountable for the puking?”

    Really? This is $250,000 of education has come down to?