White: Medical amnesty policy integral to student safety

The Geneseo College Council will meet on April 12 to discuss and vote on a number of different issues. The most important of these will be a vote on the inclusion of a “medical amnesty” policy in the Geneseo Student Code of Conduct. 

The Student Association has been advocating for a medical amnesty policy that would provide exemption from code of conduct policies related to underage possession or consumption of alcohol if that student has sought medical attention for another student or individual on the campus. In other words, if you are underage and have consumed alcohol or are in possession of it, you would not get in trouble if you call for medical help for another student. 

As the current code of conduct stands, there is nothing preventing an underage individual from getting in trouble for making this call. It is a ridiculous and arcane policy, which puts students’ lives unnecessarily at risk. 

Some who oppose medical amnesty argue that the current lack of policy serves as a disincentive for students to drink as minors. But the fact of the matter is that those who wish to drink underage will do so regardless of the law. A Cornell University study found that seven out of 10 college students have consumed alcohol in the past 30 days, most of which are underage. In addition, 30,000 college students every year are treated for alcohol poisoning. 

Another argument against medical amnesty is that it offers a tacit endorsement of underage drinking. This follows along the same line of thinking as those who say we should not give out condoms because it offers an endorsement of premarital sex. Instead of burying our heads in the sand and pretending that underage drinking does not occur, we need to recognize that it does, and do everything possible to ensure the safety of every member of our campus. Geneseo espouses not being a “bystander” and yet as our rules stand a student can be punished for helping others in need. It is a hypocritical policy that must be changed. 

A CORE Survey was performed on the Geneseo campus in 2012 that found that 87.5 percent of students had not been dissuaded from requesting assistance for a friend that was under the influence of drugs or alcohol because of fear of punishment. This number looks quite good, except when we consider that this means about 600 students had or could hesitate to seek medical help. 

Geneseo has already experienced the tragedy of a loss of a student due to alcohol poisoning. To save even one life would make medical amnesty worth it. Underage drinking occurs in large numbers, and the absence of a medical amnesty policy does nothing to curtail this. A medical amnesty policy in the code of conduct would empower students to call for help in situations where it is needed the most. Support for the policy is not an endorsement of underage drinking, but an endorsement of responsible students refusing to be bystanders. 

Keeping the student body of this campus safe and healthy should be the top priority of the College Council, and it can take a big step toward that by voting for a medical amnesty policy.