Framingham State administrators have put a new Medical Amnesty Policy into effect this fall after a year of deliberation.
The policy states that students who contact campus police or other appropriate University staff members because they or other individuals are in need of medical attention due to overconsumption of alcohol or another substance are exempt from the University’s alcohol and drug policy sanctions.
President F. Javier Cervallos said, “What prompted the policy was simple: safety. I am extremely worried about the possibility of a student getting intoxicated to the point that the person is unresponsive, and having somebody next to the student not calling an ambulance because of a fear of getting into trouble. Common sense tells me that the safety of the student is much more important than the alcohol policy.”
Some students said the fear of getting into trouble with campus police for alcohol-related incidents is on their minds.
Senior Alex Cravotta-Crouch said, “I’ve been in a circumstance that my friend should have gone to the hospital, but I was so too scared to call anyone, so I just took care of her the entire night. It [the alcohol policy] is too strict – way too strict.”
However, the new policy does not apply, for example, when the individual requiring medical attention is discovered by police because of causing a disturbance on campus, and it is only pertinent if the incident is reported by another student.
Glenn Cochran, associate dean of students and director of residence life and student conduct, described an incident that occurred on Monday, Sept. 16, which required the use of the Medical Amnesty Policy.
After a student was reported to be sick and intoxicated by a group of friends, she was escorted to the Framingham Hospital by a paramedic and later picked up by a family member. At that point, she was under interim suspension by the school, which meant she was unable to access her dorm or attend classes until further notice, according to Cochran.
“The suspension is kind of a time-out to give us a chance to meet up with these people,” said Cochran.
The next day, she met with Cochran to discuss the situation and why she found herself in it. She also spoke with a school counselor to ensure this was not a situation in which she was self-medicating, addicted or dependent on alcohol.
“People come in scared sometimes. I always feel bad when someone comes in and feels like they are going to get yelled at. I’m not here for that,” said Cochran. “They are usually feeling pretty bad physically, and are usually upset because they have disturbed family and friends. In a lot of cases, in my experience, people disappoint themselves. For some people, that’s more than enough. So it’s not a ‘beat you up’ kind of a time. It’s about really being concerned for people’s safety.”
The student was then cleared by Cochran to return to her dorm and classes, a process that took fewer than 24 hours and did not require a judicial hearing.
In the past, these incidents were met with campus judiciary sanctions. For residents, this meant a week removed from the dorms. For commuters, the sanctions were five weeks removed from residence halls. Both residents and commuters were required to take an alcohol education course, and some restriction was placed on their campus activities.
The policy also states, “Repeated incidents resulting in the application of this policy would be of great concern to the University,” and that it “does not prevent a complaint being filed against a student for other Student Conduct Code Regulations,” such as disturbance or possession of illegal substances.
The University reserves the right to take disciplinary action on a case-by-case basis, according to the policy.
Brad Medeiros, chief of campus police, said Framingham State’s Medical Amnesty Policy somewhat mirrors the Massachusetts Good Samaritan Law, which states that “No person who, in good faith, provides or obtains, or attempts to provide or obtain, assistance for a victim of a crime … shall be liable in a civil suit for damages as a result of any acts or omissions,” according to malegislature.gov.
When responding to medical substance-related situations on campus, campus police have been adhering to this law since its implementation. The process for campus police in these situations will remain the same as before the Medical Amnesty Policy was put into effect.
“We are community caretakers and guardians of the public first before we are the law enforcers,” said Medeiros.
The idea for a Medical Amnesty Policy arose with the implementation of AlcoholEdu, an online alcohol education course and first-year requirement for FSU students.
“The Medical Amnesty Policy has come up in the past,” said Melinda Stoops, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. “When President Cervallos started last year, it was actually one of the first things he was interested in.”
Stoops drafted the policy last fall, after researching similar regulations at other universities. The policy then went to governance and Student Affairs before being approved by Cervallos and printed in the 2015-16 Ram Student Handbook, and has also been discussed in freshman foundation courses.
“Bottom line is safety first,” said Stoops. “If this policy makes students seek help faster, then we have accomplished what we wanted to. Safety trumps our concern with policy violation in those situations.”
Since use of the Medical Amnesty Policy is not considered a violation of the alcohol policy, students in leadership positions such as SDAs, RAs and athletes will not have their roles compromised, said Stoops.
Cevallos said, “The policy is based on our concern for student safety. We want students to focus on everyone’s safety and not be worried about issues that could negatively affect decisions or response time.”
Ilene Hofrenning, director of the Health Center, strongly believes that this policy could save lives.
“Every year, there are college students who die because of alcohol poisoning. Sometimes, these deaths are preventable if emergency care is sought in time,” she said. “We hear from students that they sometimes hesitate to call for help when they or a friend have been drinking heavily because of the fear of getting in trouble.”
However, one student is skeptical about the policy’s integrity.
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea because I feel like people will abuse the privilege,” said Sophmore Darlyn Llanos Jimenez. “I feel like there should be a certain limit. I’m thinking of the repeat offenders.”
Otherwise, students said they believe the policy is going to be effective in reducing the number of unreported incidents.
Senior Mara Hoctor said, “I feel like there will be less incidents if people would come forward about it. There are definitely a lot of unreported cases, and people are afraid to call campus police and say that they are too drunk and need medical attention.”
Senior Jessica Ward said, “I’ve been in situations like that. I’ve seen people that are too drunk. People just look away from it so they don’t get in trouble. You feel bad, but you don’t want to get in trouble.”
Sophomore Rachel Wells said, “I think it’s a good idea because I know people, not even just on this campus but all over, that students get scared because they think that they are going to get in trouble, and someone’s life could be on the line. It’s very reasonable.”
Cochran said, “I think there’s more and more at stake for people. With college and the cost of college, there’s more investment and more at risk, and there is plenty of research and data out there that says one of the things that puts a hurdle up, that can slow people down or knock them out of the process altogether is alcohol abuse and heavy college drinking.”