The University needs to implement an alcohol amnesty policy

Caitlin Snyder is a first year master’s student at the Gilling School of Public Health

It’s a cornerstone of alcohol education: If a friend is in danger, call 911. Don’t wait.
Yet students are less likely to call for help when faced with potentially harsh repercussions. Students need to feel safe when calling for help; they need to be supported to react to the victim’s emergency rather than intimidated by penalties.

UNC is already well into another academic year with an outdated alcohol policy. Even as North Carolina recognizes that encouraging reporting saves lives — legislators passed a “Good Samaritan” bill earlier this year extending immunity for underage drinking and minor possession of illegal substances to individuals reporting an emergency — the University has yet to alter its own policies.

Students who alert police to an underage alcohol-related emergency are legally shielded from prosecution under the Good Samaritan law. They are only required to give their name to the 911 dispatcher and stay with the victim. But students remain vulnerable under University policies. Making that urgent call could affect housing and academic standing.

Other schools have already implemented policies that encourage students to stand up for friends when help is needed. Medical amnesty is generally interpreted to include immunity from disciplinary action for the caller — and often for the victim as well, as is the case at Duke University. These schools are institutionalizing a student culture that recognizes the courage sometimes necessary to help a friend in danger.

The need for change at UNC is clear. Already, the Office of the Dean of Students considers medical amnesty as individual alcohol-related incidents arise . Students reporting or experiencing an emergency may receive immunity, depending on the specific circumstances. A proposed policy change is still undergoing revisions. That draft will face the scrutiny of various campus bodies.

How much longer can UNC afford to wait for change? Students need to be accurately informed about the real consequences they will — or will not — face for calling 911. Having this information before a friend passes out at a party is critical. University policy must proactively encourage students to step up in a dangerous situation.

Students must be equipped with the information necessary to protect themselves and their friends — and they must demand that information before stalled change leaves any more students in its wake.

Thanks for reading.

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