OP-ED: Alcohol policy reform: another alternative

Tom O'Keefe

Last week, Kelsey Ruane wrote about the possibility of an alcohol amnesty policy at Villanova. Last fall, Brittany Boznanski, Lara Condon, Caroline Renzulli, Stephanie Rollo, Michael Sheridan and I completed our communication major capstone senior project on medical amnesty, its efficacy on Villanova’s campus and whether or not it would benefit Villanova’s students.

In the study, we anonymously surveyed 175 undergraduate students and interviewed key Villanova administration including Ryan Rost, assistant dean of students for Judicial Affairs; Margo Matt, assistant dean of students for Alcohol and Drug Intervention; Kathy Byrnes, associate vice president for Student Life; Tom DeMarco, director for Residence Life; John Shields, a now graduated VEMS member and residence assistant; and Stacey Andes, director of Health Promotion.

Administration pointed to potential abuse of the policy, the many grey areas involved, and the possible negative effects on Villanova’s public image as reasons why medical amnesty may not be the right fit for campus.

Rost also said, “I would unfortunately think that the irresponsible drinking would increase. I’m only speculating and I have no data to back that up, but I would be fearful that students might perceive it as a free pass.”

In reality, 90.1 percent of students surveyed said that their drinking habits would stay the same or decrease if a medical amnesty policy were enacted. Additionally, some administrators felt that students generally call VEMS for help when a friend is in need, while others, including Shields, realized that it was usually resident assistants or Public Safety officers who contacted VEMS for evaluation.

As most students can attest, there is a disconnect here between what some administration believes and what is actually true. Our research showed that the University’s views were limited by their assumptions. Students, unfortunately, do put Villanova’s alcohol policy before their friends.

Medical amnesty issues aside, we also found through our interviews that administration practices an unwritten Good Samaritan policy.

What is the Good Samaritan policy? It allows leniency from administration to the student who calls on behalf of an intoxicated friend to receive help. Our student survey results indicated that the desire to seek help for friends is overpowered by the fear of disciplinary repercussions. There’s a disconnect here, too.

Why isn’t a Good Samaritan policy formally introduced? If students are generally unaware of this unwritten policy, how can they benefit from it?

Our study found that students are going to drink regardless of university policy; therefore, a medical amnesty policy will not alter their drinking behaviors. As it pertains to policy, abuse is a problem that will always exist, but it is one that can be addressed. The intention of a medical amnesty policy is not to remove all accountability from the student but rather to educate and encourage more responsible behavior.

The success or failure of any policy is contingent upon the way in which the policy is communicated to the students. The administration is in a position in which they can educate, inform and prepare students for the situations they will inevitably face in their college experiences.

A reformed policy can have a profound effect on Villanova’s drinking culture, depending upon its construction. The administration recognizes that students under the age of 21 consume alcohol, but there is nothing in the current policy that acknowledges this fact.

An updated policy that accounts for this awareness and places students’ well being ahead of punishment could encourage students to drink more responsibly and to make better decisions in alcohol-related situations.

A reformed policy can have a profound effect on Villanova’s drinking culture, depending on its construction and how it is communicated to the students.

It’s time for Villanova to formalize a Good Samaritan policy and improve communication with students regarding alcohol on campus.

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Tom O’Keefe is a 2009 graduate of Villanova. He can be reached at [email protected]