MIT has recently changed its “Good Samaritan Policy.” Meant to protect those who call for help for a victim in an alcohol-related emergency, the policy is designed so that the “good samaritan” will not get in trouble for calling an ambulance for someone. The old policy, largely unchanged since it was written in the mid-2000s, was several pages long, and also included minimum outcomes (e.g. a follow-up from housemaster, or review by the Committee on Discipline) for individuals transported to a hospital many times or living groups responsible for the intoxication. Last spring, Don Camelio, director of Community Development and Substance Abuse, and Judith M. Robinson, associate dean for Student Outreach and Support, conducted focus groups about the old policy, and then created the Alcohol Policy Working Group to further review it. They decided to modify the policy “to remove some of the perceived barriers to seeking help”, according to the CDSA website. Camelio described the old policy as “not user friendly.”
The new policy, entitled “Practice for Seeking Help During Alcohol Related Medical Emergencies,” consists of a few simple, yet broad, paragraphs. The essence of the revision is that “MIT treats this as a health and safety concern and not a disciplinary matter,” said Camelio. According to the policy, after an alcohol-related emergency, students are expected to cooperate with Institute officials and meet with appropriate Institute administrative staff, and the student that received medical attention is required to complete educational and/or counseling programs. The policy does not protect students involved in “serious or flagrant violations of the MIT policy,” such as violence, harassment, and “instances where groups of students require medical attention.”
The policy applies not only to individuals, but also organizations, living groups, their members, and the associated responsible people. If the incident would otherwise merit disciplinary action, according to the policy, compliance with the Good Samaritan Policy would be considered a mitigating factor. On the other hand, a “lack of response” (not demonstrating responsible, help-seeking behavior in an alcohol emergency, according to the policy) can “void all protections under this practice” and can result in follow-up, relevant sanctioning, or levying of disciplinary action.
With regards to the broadness of the policy, Camelio said that they made the language about the post-incident education and/or counseling “vague on purpose” to allow for the flexibility to respond suitably to different situations. The policy does not mention which administrators determine follow-up programs, or even enumerate possible options.
Camelio says that they wanted to make the policy easy to follow. “We didn’t want any hesitation on the student’s part to use it,” he said. “We wanted to make it as user-friendly as possible. That’s really the biggest change.”
Another key difference in the new policy is that it does not outline direct penalties for repeat offenses, unlike the previous policy, which escalated discipline after the second punishment. With the new policy, the CDSA has been working with organizations like Dormitory Council and the Interfraternity Council from the beginning, according to Camelio, and these groups will handle discipline like penalties and fines internally. “We want to make sure the number of [hospitalizations] is low because our students are engaging in low-risk drinking behaviors, not because they’re afraid to call,” said Camelio.
According to Camelio, this is by no means the final version of the policy. “The real reason that we do this is to reduce barriers so that no one dies from alcohol poisoning. … If things change and we have to tweak it to make sure that we’re doing that, [we will].”
The full policy can be found at http://studentlife.mit.edu/cdsa/practice-seeking-help.
This story is still in development, and The Tech will follow up further with members of the community and the administration.
Janelle Mansfield contributed reporting.