Friday, September 2, 2011

Student Alcohol Policy UPDATE

I talked to a member of the student government here this afternoon, and he told me that the view of Dean Holmes having just received access to their medical records was a "common misconception". According to him, the Dean has held this power for some time now. In the past, the Dean could call up the Wellness Center and requisition the files of a repeat offender, or in other words, someone who appears to pose a danger to themselves. The rule change, this member said, is just putting the data in a more convenient position for the Dean's office to recognize repeat offenders.

While this is less disturbing than the idea of the Dean suddenly having access to students' medical records, I believe that this is still a problem for a number of reasons. Consider:

-Either way, students have no knowledge of when their medical information can be accessed by the Dean, or what criteria he uses to decide when such access is necessary. I didn't know that was possible and I've been First Responding at the Wellness Center for three years.

-The Dean gets to make the determination of when a series of alcohol-related incidents requires him to step in. Given that the Wellness Center staff is in the best position to judge when a student is having a problem, and given that they naturally have access to a student's medical history,  I would rather see them inform the Dean if they believe a student has a serious problem.

-This is because not all alcohol-related incidents are created equally. Some students visiting the Wellness Center are utterly trashed and some are not. It seems like the staff is in a better position to determine who appears to have a problem and who does not. There's also the question of, what if someone comes in with a cut on their hand and they've had a few drinks, but the cut was unrelated to the drinking? Would they get a report sent to the Wellness Center as well, perhaps unjustly?

-Either way, it's still a big problem if students believe they will get in trouble by going to the Wellness Center. The policy still provides a disincentive for students to go or take their friends to the Center, particularly if they're not informed about what the policy actually is and what each individual notification of the Dean entails. One might assume that someone with one visit to the Dean already on the books might hesitate to go back to the Center, for fear of suffering penalties. 

-Finally, the Dean's policy hinges on clear communication with the student body about what the notification is and what it entails, why students should not fear going to the Wellness Center because of it, and what repeat offenders should expect. As I said in my letter to Dean Holmes, the point isn't to convince the sober, clear-headed, rational people on campus of the policy's purpose when they're sober. The point is to ensure that students feel like they can bring their drunken friends to the Wellness Center late at night and not have their friends (or themselves) suffer negative repercussions from doing so. This requires clearer communication about those topics than the Voice article provided.

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