Amnesty policy helps students do the right thing

    130
    print

    Cathleen O’Shaughnessy, a graduate communications student, possibly saved the life of her friend after she called for help when she saw her friend was in trouble.

    O’Shaughnessy said that although she and her friends were scared to call university police or her resident assistant when her friend had a bad reaction to alcohol, the Medical Amnesty/Good Samaritan Policy helped her make the decision to make the call. O’Shaughnessy was under 21 years old at the time and could have faced penalties from the university if she was caught under the influence.

    “Because of the amnesty program, I called and I got her help and nothing happened, we were all safe and she was fine,” she said. “Had I not been aware of it, I don’t know what would have happened.”

    According to the 2009-2010 Official Student Handbook, no one who calls for emergency assistance on behalf of someone else because of an alcohol or drug-related issue will face disciplinary action – he or she will receive amnesty and go unpunished.

    Yvonne Giovanis, associate director of the TCU Alcohol and Drug Education Center, said 10 students received amnesty during the 2008-2009 school year and five received amnesty during the 2007-2008 school year.

    Giovanis said the university uses the Medical Amnesty/Good Samaritan Policy to encourage students to seek medical assistance despite the potential of disciplinary action for violating alcohol and drug policies.

    “If I and a friend of mine were under 21 and we were consuming alcohol and I got sick, my friend would grow concerned. My friend would be reluctant to seek help because maybe you could smell (the alcohol) on her,” Giovanis said. “.Many students in that situation wouldn’t know what to do or don’t want to get in trouble.”

    Giovanis said a student who reports more than once might still not receive disciplinary action the second time but at that point concerns would be raised. Administrators from Campus Life and Housing and Residence Life would determine if the student need referral to Campus Life or other alcohol/drug counseling centers.

    However, amnesty is granted on a case-by-case basis, she said.

    “It isn’t exactly A-B-C,” Giovanis said. “We have to look at the circumstances or if the student didn’t learn their lesson the first time.”

    Giovanis said the fear comes from knowing that even though the students may have been drinking, there may still be other violations occurring that have nothing to do with alcohol, like staying past dorm curfews.

    O’Shaughnessy said campus staff were happy that she and her friends went to them.

    “It was an awful experience but it was a good experience having the support that we got from the RAs, the counselors on campus, the residence hall association,” O’Shaughnessy said. “They were all very supportive and proud of us and didn’t make us feel one bit guilty for having been drinking.”

    O’Shaughnessy said the amnesty policy is a great method of helping students come forward in dire situations.

    “People who are still under 21 still feel scared, that, ‘I still have to go to an alcohol awareness class’, or, ‘What if it gets back to my parents?'” she said. “But I think it’s a fantastic idea that they have it.”

    When O’Shaughnessy came in as a freshman, the university did an extensive program on alcohol education involving all the women in her dorm, she said. Even when she moved out of the dorms, she still received information from teachers, faculty and programs about alcohol awareness.

    According to the 2008 spring survey by the Core Institute, a drug prevention program that surveys hundreds of campuses across the nation every three years, 95 percent of the student population at TCU showed an awareness of the university’s alcohol and drug policies, whereas the national average stood at 88 percent awareness.

    The high awareness of the policies came from the university’s increasing efforts to promote the policies toward incoming students at orientation. Giovanis said all incoming students receive a copy of the student handbook, which contains all the policies in detail.

    Angie Taylor, director of Student Affairs Office of Quality Enhancement, said the university does a good job of spreading information, especially during the first week of school through residence halls, fraternity and sorority chapters and student organizations.

    “It’s a difficult thing to do because you’ve got a lot of students that only register for college, especially at the larger commuter colleges, to go to class,” Taylor said. “And you know, they don’t read their handbooks, they don’t look at that information, so that plays with that (percentage).”

    The university leadership recognized the importance of getting information out to the student population, she said.

    “A large percentage of our population knows that we have rules about that and some people just choose to violate them,” Taylor said.

    According to the student handbook, the Alcohol and Drug Education Center offers programs individually designed to meet the specific needs of a group or organization requesting a presentation.

    The center also sponsors groups that are committed to creating a healthy environment at the university, such as Frogs CARE and HyperFrogs, the campus spirit organization.

    231 – Number of first-time alcohol violators.

    15 – Number of second-time alcohol violators.

    2 – Number of third-time alcohol violators.