Alcohol policy: discouraging calls for help?

by Keith Lavigne | 11/11/94 6:00am

Differences between the College's alcohol policy and the Hanover Police Department's legal responsibilities could affect the way students seek medical assistance when they or their friends become intoxicated.

Dartmouth's alcohol policy contains what is commonly known as the "Good Samaritan Clause," which is designed to encourage students to seek professional help for their intoxicated peers by exonerating all parties from alcohol-related College discipline.

"When a student or organization assists an intoxicated individual in procuring the assistance of Safety and Security, local or state police, and/or medical professionals, neither ... [party] will be subject to formal College disciplinary action for (1) being intoxicated, or (2) having provided that person alcohol," the Student Handbook states.

Although the policy is grounded in a concern for student health, there are two factors that seem to discourage students from taking advantage of it; students treated by the College infirmary are charged for these services and a call for an ambulance brings in the Hanover Police and leads to an arrest.

The police are required to enforce the state's alcohol laws and may initiate investigations following requests for ambulance assistance, Hanover Police Chief Nick Giaccone said.

Police separate from policy

Giaccone said the police do not follow the "Good Samaritan" policy. He said the College created it without communicating with the police and that it only relates to College administered discipline.

"We were not any part of the [Good Samaritan Policy] discussion. We don't coordinate policy [with the College]," Giaccone said.

Giaccone said not all cases brought to the attention of the police are prosecuted, but are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

A recent case where a member of Delta Delta Delta sorority became intoxicated at one of the group's parties last spring highlights the discrepancies between College and Hanover Police policy. When a friend called to request assistance from Safety and Security, the College called for an ambulance.

Since then, the sorority has been charged with two counts of providing alcohol to minors and faces maximum fines of $100,000, which will be decided at a trial this winter. The College determined that the incident fell within the "Good Samaritan Clause" and neither the organization nor the individuals were brought up on College disciplinary charges.

Senior Associate Dean of Students Dan Nelson said the Good Samaritan Policy has its place in the Dartmouth environment, but may not be appropriate in the larger Hanover environment.

Medical help first

Although the policy does not protect students from investigations by the police, Nelson said students' primary concern should be to seek medical help, not fears of discipline.

Nelson admitted that the policy has not encouraged as many students to seek help as it should, but he said it is unclear why students do not use the policy more extensively.

"It may be because students don't understand [the policy], or that students are not always aware when other students need help," he said.

Coed Fraternity Sorority Council President Chris Donley '95 said he thinks the fees charged by Dick's House also deter students from calling for medical assistance.

Intoxication treatment at Dick's House can cost up to $500 for an overnight stay, Director of Health Services John Turco said. He said the fee, which pays for the room and care, is necessary to maintain Dick's House's status as a hospital.

Donley said he has been working to encourage College Health Service to lower the cost for alcohol treatment to around $100, but so far has been unsuccessful.

"This [idea] has been brought up at a number of College Committee on Alcohol and Other Drugs meetings, but Health Service has been resistant," Donley said.

Turco said he feels it would be wrong to subsidize alcohol treatment as Health Service does for most other types of health care.

"If it was implemented that all alcohol-related admissions be considered infirmary admissions, then in effect the cost of the admission would be shared by all the students paying tuition. I suspect many students would feel that was unfair," Turco said.

Students lose confidence

Donley also said students do not have full confidence in the "Good Samaritan" policy and that he has heard of "a number of incidents over the last three terms, both inside and outside CFS houses, where the Good Samaritan Policy was not applied as students expected it to."

Although Donley would not provide specifics, he said the situations involved students who were punished after having voluntarily sought medical treatment.

But administrators said the "Good Samaritan" policy is not automatically applied to every situation. It is ultimately up to the deans to determine whether it applies to a specific situation.

"The decision [to discipline a student] rests in the hands of the deans," College Health Educator Gabrielle Lucke said.

Weighing the alternatives

Theta Delta Chi Social Chair Doug Pepper '95 said his fraternity would not be deterred from requesting Safety and Security's assistance even though the house could possibly face police investigation.

He said "the bottom line is that if something is seriously wrong, the fraternity could get in more trouble if they did not get help for the individual."

Along with bringing down costs, Donley said the College needs to "make the Good Samaritan Policy clear cut, and not at the discretion of the deans ... arrange for a means for transportation [not involving the police and] coordinate this policy with Hanover police so that student safety can be paramount on everyone's agenda."

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