Despite growing support for amnesty clause, student conduct policy remains unchanged

Mason Police Chief Eric Heath said that Mason students should not be worried about possible punishment in an emergency situation (illustration by Katryna Henderson).
Mason Police Chief Eric Heath said that Mason students should not be worried about possible punishment in an emergency situation (illustration by Katryna Henderson).

Across the nation, some 240 universities implement a version of the Good Samaritan policy.

Mason, however, does not.

A Good Samaritan policy states a person shall be immune from punishment if they call 911 for someone else while they are intoxi­cated or high on an illegal substance.

“Amnesty policies can mean different things for many schools,” said Dr. David Anderson, director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Health at the university. “[But] a lot of campuses spend time developing this...The point is to avoid injury.”

In 2011, Dr. David Anderson and WAVES director Mary Ann Sprouse published a report on the findings of a task force established to create an overview of current issues regarding drugs and alcohol and provide suggestions on how to fix these problems.

One of the report’s recommendations included the development of a Good Samaritan policy.

“Mason hasn’t addressed it,” Anderson said.

Mason Police Chief Eric Heath said that, while Mason may be lacking an amnesty policy, students in an emergency situation should not be worried about possible punish­ment and should always call for help.

Student Government Attorney General Rachel Grimesey believes lack of student voice might play a part in the current state of the policy.

“Student Government’s really been trying to shift our focus to things that people come to us about, partially because people didn’t come to us before,” Grimesey said. “We’re trying to bring people forward to vocalize more what they want from us, and that’s mostly what happened with the drug policy last year - because we had so many people bringing it to the forefront of their issues we were able to do something about it.”

Soon, however, Student Government may have more fuel for legislative action. Sophomore David Gibrael recently founded a chapter for Students for Sensible Drug Policy. SSDP is an international campaign that seeks to eliminate drug policies they find ineffective or harmful.

“Without a policy like that in place and especially without an open policy - as in every student should know about that policy - it discourages people from seeking medical attention in the case of an overdose,” Gibrael said. “It’s very counter-productive even by their own agenda. It discourages people from trying to seek medical attention because they’re worried about repercussions.”

The SSDP chapter is still establishing itself as an organization, but Girbrael said he sees the group advocating for a policy change in the future.

Hortense Rascoe, the associate director of the Office of Student Conduct, said her office is receptive to any student voice on matters of policy.

“Students play a salient role in the conduct process at Mason, from serving as board members and making decisions to providing suggestions to the director of Student Conduct about the Code of Student Conduct,” Rascoe wrote in an email. “We always welcome discussions and input from students.”

Discussion is less effective when Student Government only has a few opinions to bring to administration offices, and, when it comes to the alcohol policy, Student Government hears very few complaints, Grimesey said.

Despite this lack of feedback, Student Government has previously advocated for a Good Samaritan addition.

“Good Samaritan is something that has been going [in SG] since my freshman year,” Grimesey said. “My name is on a bill from three years ago advocating it on campus.”

No changes were made to the Student Code of Conduct, so Grimesey plans on incorpo­rating a Good Samaritan amendment to the Student Bill of Rights.

“That’s probably going to be something that’s going to come up this year with the Bill of Rights,” Grimesey said. “It’s on the radar. It’s on the list of things that we’re looking at.”

Anderson believes administrative offices should also be considering an amnesty policy.

“I think it should be looked at,” Anderson said. “I think every campus should address the issue. Does that mean they should definitely have a policy - you might have some reason where you don’t want to give someone amnesty. I would like to have a policy because when in doubt, don’t take a chance with someone’s life.”

Heath said safety of all persons involved is the department’s number one priority, and they would never want a student to not call 911 because they fear punishment.

“It is my expectation that our department handle situations, when applicable, in a manner that fosters further communica­tion rather than impeding communication simply for fear that the caller and/or ‘Good Samaritan’ will be held accountable,” Heath said. “It is important for our department to be involved when the safety and well-being of an individual or the community is at risk, no matter the circumstances.”

Anderson said he doesn’t think the lack of policy has necessarily had a negative impact, but rather the absence is an empty space the university can fill by encouraging a more supportive community.

“I think we have a lot of lost opportuni­ties,” Anderson said. “I would want to build a caring environment so if you see someone who has behavior [that could cause] harm to themselves or others - whether that’s suicide, homophobia, overdosing - you say something about it. That doesn’t mean report to police. That means stand up...We have a mindset, we have a culture where we take care of each other.”


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