Responsible Action Protocol formalizes, doesn't change, university alcohol policy

    Weinberg sophomore Jackson Siegal said he wouldn’t hesitate to call an ambulance for an intoxicated friend. “I don’t care if I get in trouble or not. You can’t be scared about getting in trouble,” he said.

    Northwestern’s new Responsible Action Protocol, outlined in the latest edition of the student handbook, formally offers students like Siegal some level of protection. The protocol guarantees in writing that students who follow its guidelines for helping out an intoxicated friend will face “no (or lesser) formal disciplinary action for infractions they may have committed before or in connection with the emergency.”

    The protocol, however, makes no substantive changes to Northwestern’s existing alcohol policy. It only puts in writing the practice that has been in place for the past few years, according to Director of Judicial Affairs Jim Neumeister. The policy notably stops short of providing full medical amnesty — guaranteed protection against disciplinary action for both the student in need of medical attention and the student who called it in. It says nothing about the disciplinary consequences for the intoxicated student.

    A student reporting an intoxicated friend must follow three steps in order to receive a full or partial pardon, according to the protocol. A student must call 911, stay with the student until assistance arrives and cooperate with officials.

    Even in cases where one student acts responsibly, though, the policy states that the “incident will be documented, and education, community, and health initiatives — as well as contact with a student’s parents or family — may be required.”

    The Dean of Students gets copies of every University and Evanston city report that involves an NU student. Howard and other members of his division evaluate each report and decide what actions need to be taken. The protocol also doesn’t prevent action by police or legal authorities.

    Neumeister said the reason for finally putting the policy into writing was to prevent students from hesitating to call because they were unsure how the university deals with alcohol-related incidents.

    With the new protocol, “students have clear directives in terms of what should happen in those kinds of situations,” he said.

    When it comes down to deciding whether to call an ambulance, interim Dean of Students Burgie Howard said it is better to leave it up to EMTs to decide if a student is fine, instead of having the students decide.

    The protocol is the administration’s latest move in a drawn out discussion of what Northwestern can do to promote a safe drinking culture — a discussion that has included the June 2008 death of SESP freshman Matthew Sunshine.

    Associated Student Government Vice President Tommy Smithburg said the administration has talked about changing the school alcohol policy for about the past eight years. Smithburg worked closely with Neumeister as a member of ASG and its Alcohol Task Force.

    Though the new protocol seeks to assure students that helping an intoxicated friend will get them in little to no trouble, many students said that disciplinary consequences, clear or not, are not their main concern.

    “I don’t think you could live with yourself,” Weinberg freshman Jahna Goldman said. “I would rather get in a lot of trouble than let someone get really hurt or die on my watch, [with] me being able to do something.”

    Smithburg said the most important point for students is common sense. “Don’t even worry about what the rules are,” he said. “Use your head and get them help.”

    But even some who say they would report in spite of the consequences favor full amnesty for both parties over the partial amnesty described in the new protocol.

    “I think there should be total amnesty,” Jackson Siegal said. “A lot of schools have it.”

    Howard countered that Northwestern does not have a full amnesty policy because students who drink underage should be subject to the law just like anyone else.

    “The fact of the matter is they’re the one that drank all the alcohol,” he said. “Getting in trouble is a far lesser concern than losing one’s life.” He added that when students are around alcohol, they must assume a level of individual responsibility; if they decide to break the law, they need to be responsible for themselves.

    Smithburg said the protocol is more of a “Band-Aid solution,” and that ideally no student should ever be in a situation where they need to be hospitalized. Bigger solutions would stop students from getting to that point, Smithburg said. He hopes to change the drinking culture by making alternatives to binge drinking more accessible and available. The PlanIt Purple Web site is a start, he said, but he wants to develop a site that student groups can use to reach Northwestern students.

    The Daily Northwesternreported this week that the number of emergency room visited during welcome week declined this year to four. Ultimately, Howard said, evaluating the success of the protocol and determining whether to make more changes will take more than a few weeks.


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