Some might balk at the idea of allowing students to go unpunished for breaking college alcohol rules if they put the welfare of a fellow student first. But it may be the best way to ensure that students do the right thing in an emergency.
Clemson University students are lobbying the administration to adopt what they call a Medical Alcohol Amnesty policy. Under the policy, university rules and discipline would be waived when students put saving a student's life and health first during an alcohol-related emergency.
Students who advocate the amnesty policy argue that it would mean one less barrier to getting students the help they might need in an emergency. Only university rules and discipline could be waived; university officials have no authority to exempt students from law enforcement or the courts.
Clemson is reviewing its entire alcohol and underage drinking policy after the death of an 18-year-old freshman at a December fraternity party. The student, who was found dead an at off-campus fraternity house, died from alcohol poisoning.
Three of the victim's fraternity brothers recently were charged with alcohol-related misdemeanors, although prosecutors determined that their actions did not directly lead to the death of the student. The three have, however, been charged with transferring alcohol to a minor and using fake identification to buy alcohol.
The number of violations of the school's alcohol regulations almost doubled in the 2005-2006 school year from the previous year. Administrators think the increase is largely the result of more aggressive enforcement.
According to the school's student code of conduct, underage drinking is a violation subject to discipline ranging from a reprimand and a letter to parents to suspension. Students also face criminal charges if campus police are involved in the case.
We would expect most students would risk disciplinary action if a fellow student were suffering from severe alcohol poisoning. But an amnesty policy would help ensure students wouldn't delay in calling authorities even if they are merely suspicious that another student might be in danger.
We can envision a situation in which students, hoping to avoid discipline, might wait to see if a student's condition improves before making the call. An offer of amnesty could prevent students from hesitating.
Students pushing for amnesty note that a number of other schools, including Harvard University, William and Mary University and the University of Georgia, have similar amnesty policies.
Gail DiSabatino, Clemson's vice president for student affairs, said that although the health and safety of students is the first concern, she thinks the school still would have to make sure that students acknowledge the seriousness of an alcohol emergency. That, we think, is an important consideration. Amnesty should not mean that students can simply pretend the incident never occurred.
But, as DiSabatino states, student welfare is the first priority. Promising not to punish students who act responsibly could save lives.
Clemson students want amnesty for those who act responsibly during alcohol emergency.
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