UNH one of few colleges in region without Good Samaritan Policy

By Alexandra Churchill
On April 20, 2010

 It's the typical college party scene on a weekend night: college students have amassed into a small off-campus apartment, beers in hand, laughing, drinking and dancing. One kid, you vaguely recognize him as a freshman from class, suddenly pales and doubles over, vomiting on the floor. He drops to his knees, unconscious.

You could shrug it off as just another freshman that drank one too many beers, but something doesn't feel right. As you pull out your cell phone to dial 911, you remember you are both underage. He will most likely get arrested and so will you. What would you do in this realistic, but hypothetical situation?

Most students would not dial the number without a Good Samaritan Policy.

This is because if they choose to dial the number, a UNH student risks losing their housing, their privilege to study abroad and their academic standing at the university.

It is the official policy of the Office of Conduct and Mediation to charge a student caught on campus under the unlawful influence of drugs or alcohol with such violations.

The Good Samaritan Policies, also known as Medical Amnesty Policies, enable people to make responsible decisions by shielding them from punishment when they call for medical help during an emergency relating to underage drinking or use of illegal drugs.

Since the threat of punitive policies discourages students from calling for help in these emergencies – and sometimes life-threatening – situations, the existence of a Good Samaritan Policy ensures students that they receive the help they need.

According to research conducted by the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), 91 American schools have Good Samaritan Policies written in the books.

This includes most New England schools such as the University of Vermont, the University of Maine, Boston University, Yale University, Brown University and even UNH's elite neighbor, Dartmouth College.

Good Samaritan Policies have been put to good use when implemented at schools and has even saved lives.

A 2006 study in the International Journal of Drug Policy found that emergency calls doubled after Cornell University's Good Samaritan Policy was enacted in 2002, although alcohol abuse rates have remained relatively constant.

So the question is, why hasn't a Good Samaritan Policy been implemented on the UNH campus?

The overall purpose of the policy is to keep people from "thinking twice" as Ashley Rennebu, Chairman on the Student Senate Community Change Council, puts it.
"When you sit there wondering whether you'll get in trouble or not, it's a few minutes that could mean someone's life," she said.

Rennebu has been working to have the Good Samaritan Policy implemented here on the UNH campus since January of last year.

Her work with the student senate has garnered much attention on the Facebook group, "Bring a Good Samaritan Law to UNH," of which 2,034 users have become members.
On Sunday, the student senate passed a resolution urging the Office of Conduct and Mediation to implement a Good Samaritan Policy here at UNH.

The resolution was drawn up and advocated by Council Chairs Stephen Boutwell of Judicial Affairs, Ashley Rennebu of Community Change and Hillary Flieger of Health and Human Service Council.

"It's something I've been working on for over a year and a half now, and I'm glad it's finally caught everyone's attention," Rennebu said.

Boutwell insisted that a Good Samaritan Policy does not condone irresponsible behavior, but rather empowers students to call for help in medical emergencies.

Under a Good Samaritan Policy, a student will have the option of filling out a form requesting to invoke medical amnesty.

The Office of Judicial Affairs would use their discretion to either grant or deny this request.
If the judicial officer denies a student's request, no changes would be made to the punitive judicial actions.

If the judicial officer grants the request, judicial sanctions would be removed or reduced accordingly to the situation.

Declaring medical amnesty protects a student from a school's code of conduct, not from federal or state law.

If caught drinking underage, a student will still most likely be arrested and charged with the crime, but it will not have to worry about the university judicial penalties that can haunt someone through their academic years.

"I think the real concern students have is not the state law but the university violation of the student code of conduct and how that impacts their student housing or student status," Deputy Chief Paul Dean of the UNH Police Department said.

"The UNH Police Department and Durham Police Department don't bring student conduct cases on alcohol violations except in rare instances."

Mark Rubinstein, vice president of Student and Academic Services, acknowledged the university's administrative support of the passed resolution.

"We look forward to further discussion on this," Rubinstein said. "We're looking to consult with organizations and then sometime next year to implementing this policy."

The student senate councils intend to collaborate with university administration and local police, as well as several on-campus organizations to finalize UNH's own Good Samaritan Policy.

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