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Better define our expectations

| Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sometimes important milestones don’t get the attention they deserve.

While students at Notre Dame were busy trying to find the right classroom on the second day of classes, Aug. 26, the Office of Community Standards (OCS) sent an email about its new Expectation of Responsibility policy. This policy is similar, but not identical, to medical amnesty and “Good Samaritan” laws many states and colleges across the country have put in place.

Notre Dame student government has prioritized medical amnesty for years, and the content of the new Expectation of Responsibility is hugely important. Unfortunately, in the chaos  of the beginning of the school year, we feel many students may have mentally marked the OCS email as just another blast email and ignored its important message. Like OCS, we believe student safety is the most important issue on any college campus, and therefore, it is necessary to fully and clearly explain the Expectation of Responsibility.

The clause guarantees underage students will “be exempt from the assignment of Disciplinary Status Outcomes” — defined as “Disciplinary Probation or dismissal from the University” — if they get medical attention for another student who needs it. This is true even if the University’s alcohol or controlled substances policies have been violated.

Put simply, if you seek emergency medical assistance for a fellow student, and alcohol or drugs were involved, you will be protected against dismissal from the University and disciplinary probation, defined as “a specific period of observation and evaluation of a student’s conduct.” A student who is on disciplinary probation “may not participate in an international study abroad program or any other off-site University academic program.”

We feel it is also important to note this exemption applies to the student who receives the medical attention. If you receive attention for a medical emergency after heavily drinking or drug use, you are also protected from dismissal and disciplinary probation.

This exemption does not include repeat offenders. The Expectation of Responsibility states it is “intended to create an environment where a student … will change their future behavior,” and therefore those who have repeated “alcohol and/or drug-related incidents involving the need for medical attention” may still be subject to Disciplinary Status Outcomes at the University’s discretion.

This is a monumental step in the right direction here at Notre Dame. Before this year, a policy of this kind never existed in du Lac, in contrast to both Saint Mary’s and the state of Indiana, which have both had medical amnesty clauses since 2012.

The policy lays out a clear three-step process students are expected to follow. First, in situations that require emergency medical attention, students must “proactively contact an appropriate authority (i.e. Notre Dame Security Police, residence hall staff, 911, etc.).” Second, until those authorities arrive, students are expected to “remain with the individual requiring medical attention,” and third, “cooperate with responding emergency officials.” If students fulfill those three requirements, they have fulfilled the Expectation of Responsibility policy.

But we feel there is still room for improvement. As we have said, Notre Dame clearly lays out the expectations for students to be granted medical amnesty under the Expectation of Responsibility policy. However, we are concerned the University fails to clearly define how students can expect to be treated once they invoke this policy.

Under the current Expectation of Responsibility policy, the only clear expectation a student can have is what won’t happen: They will not be subject to dismissal from the University or disciplinary probation. While this is important, what will actually happen to them is far less clear.

According to the policy, “the student [who helped another] may be referred to an appropriate setting of the University Conduct Process for a conversation grounded in formation and development.” After this conversation, a student may still be subject to “formative and/or professional referral outcomes.”

The same applies to the student who received the medical attention, except in addition to the “formative” and “professional referral” outcomes there may also be “administrative and/or loss of privilege outcomes.”

As far as we can tell, this means students may still lose on-campus housing privileges if they are living on campus when the emergency occurs or may be subject to other punishments, from written assignments to random drug screening to bans from specific areas of campus. There is too much room for inconsistent outcomes if the policy is not clear enough.

This concerns us. We want to make our community as safe as it can be, and this new policy definitely helps in that regard. However, since the University clearly outlines the expectations for students, we believe this needs to be a two-way street. If students know exactly what to expect when they seek medical attention for themselves or another person, we believe there will be more of an inclination to err on the safe side and seek help.

When a student sees another student in need of medical assistance, the last thing that should be on anyone’s mind is what will happen to them if they help. If the students and the University are completely in sync on this matter, our community will reap the benefits.

Though we are not there yet, we believe the Expectation of Responsibility policy moves us in the right direction towards keeping students safe.

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