Medical Amnesty deemed still effective, but students fail to use it

This story was originally published in the Feb. 8 issue of Fourth Estate.

(Laura Baker/Fourth Estate)

(Laura Baker/Fourth Estate)

The Medical Amnesty Program is continuing at Mason with no modifications after a review, though not many students have taken advantage of its benefits.

A university committee reviewed the policy at the end of this past summer, which allowed time for the policy to be updated if necessary. The reviewing committee consisted of representatives from Housing and Residence Life; Dean of Students Office; Student Conduct; Wellness, Alcohol, and Violence Education and Services; University Police; Student Support; Student Involvement; Athletics; Student Health; and Counseling and Psychological Services.

Amnesty, or non-disciplinary intervention for an alcohol-related medical emergency, can be granted after following a set of procedures listed in Mason’s Code of Student Conduct. According to the code, students must begin by taking action and calling 911 or University Police in a potentially critical situation for themselves or others. Next, reporting students who placed the call must remain with the student in crisis until help arrives. At that point they are expected to cooperate with professionals and provide accurate information about the situation.

Finally, the students must practice accountability by following a list of parameters to prevent a conduct case. The students must request or obtain medical attention at the time of the incident, before police or emergency personnel arrive and then follow up with a member of the Office of Student Conduct to determine eligibility for medical amnesty. Lastly, the students must meet with a professional for an educational conversation and assessment, and to receive a potential referral for additional services.

Records from the Office of the Dean of Students show that only 15 students have used the program since it started in the fall of 2014 and of those students, only five used it last semester.

This number barely compares to the 202 referrals for violations of the University’s alcohol policy last semester, according to the Office of Student Conduct.

“Each referral is reviewed by a conduct officer to see if medical amnesty would be applicable,” assistant dean of Students and Director of Student Conduct Brent Ericson noted.

The policy at Mason is similar to other regional and Virginia universities who have medical amnesty policies, Blank-Godlove said.

“It is important to note that each institution’s policies are unique to that specific university based on the needs and climate of the campus and local communities,” Blank-Godlove said.

Interim Chief of Police Thomas Longo believes the policy is important in regards to students and their safety on campus.

“When the topic of medical amnesty came up, it was quickly recognized how important it could be in terms of the protection of our students’ lives and well-being, which of course is a pillar of student success,” Longo said. “That’s our mission as administrators here at Mason, and the Department of Police & Public Safety was a supporter of it from the beginning.”

Touching on the effectiveness of the program, Blank-Godlove reported that “students are utilizing the medical amnesty option and feedback has been positive,” despite the low numbers.

Marketing of the program has been focused through student organizations as well as Housing and Residence Life, Student Government and student athletes, and continues to be an area of focus for the committee, Godlove added.

“Last year, Student Government launched a marketing campaign for the program,” Student Body President Khushboo Bhatia said. “We got door hangers made for the residence halls, and went around to student organizations, as well as student leader groups to educate them on the program, and encourage them to spread the word to their peers on it.”

Bhatia noted that the door hangers were redistributed this past semester throughout freshmen housing and she also expressed hopes to continue to come up with creative ideas to get the word out to students.

“I think that this program does a pretty good job of supporting individuals who go through an emergency situation,” Bhatia said. “I believe that as more students begin to utilize it, we can gather more feedback on it and make improvements accordingly.”

Bhatia also believes that the program is effective.

“I do think that the program is effective and working for students that are able to utilize it,” Bhatia said. “I think because the program is still relatively new, students are still learning that it is in place. Luckily, we have staff in Student Conduct that do care about the students that they work with, and help to educate them on the options and resources that they have available to them, including the Medical Amnesty Program.”

Longo hopes that students aren’t afraid to make the right decision.

“We continue to hope that students feel comfortable with calling for needed help when the situation appears to warrant it,” Longo said.

Information about medical amnesty can be found at Questions about the policy can be directed to the Dean of Student’s Office (703-993-2884); Student Conduct (703-993-6209); or to Wellness, Alcohol and Violence Education and Services (703-993-9999).