Villanova Should Expand its Amnesty Policy

Majo James, Staff Writer

There is possibly no Villanovan on campus who does not know the all-too-frequent wailing sirens and flashing lights of VEMS. Villanova Emergency Medical Services (VEMS) is “a 100% student-run, University-supported volunteer ambulance service licensed and dedicated to providing Basic Life Support care to the Villanova University campus community,” as is written on their official webpage. 

The University has a policy in place known as the Expectation of Responsibility, in the event that a student is in need of medical help due to substance use. There are three requirements that all students involved must meet in order to be eligible for this policy.

“(1) Immediately and proactively contact an appropriate authority (e.g. Public Safety, Resident Assistant, 911) to seek emergency attention. (2) Remain with the individual requiring emergency attention. (3) Fully cooperate with University officials and emergency responders.” 

If eligible, the policy states that the person/people who call VEMS for someone who needs help will be exempt from disciplinary action by the University, as long as they don’t violate other policies. For example, if there was any damage to University property, the student would face repercussions for that offense but not for any substance use. The same applies to the student who needs help. However, they will be directed to a meeting with a substance use counselor and a group counseling session with other students who also violated the substance use policy. 

Associate Dean of Students, Sydney Scheiner, was more than happy to comment. 

“We never want someone to be so in fear of themselves or a friend getting in trouble, that they risk their health and safety,” she said. “Therefore, the goal is to make sure that students receive the care they might need, and reduce the level of disciplinary action that comes from it.” 

However, as the policy states, “​​[The] University reserves the right to sanction students in cases of repeated violations.” Though the Dean of Students office does not guarantee immunity in a situation where the person has already had VEMS called for substance use-related offenses in the past, they still highly recommend that students prioritize their safety and well-being over any possible repercussions. 

“If someone is in an emergency situation more than once and alcohol or substance use is involved, that student very likely needs a higher level of help and support that the Dean of Students Office will make sure the student receives,” Scheiner said. 

Though I agree with this, I believe that a disciplinary response to repeated substance use violations is not conducive to a recovery process, rather adding an additional burden to the student. 

Sanctioning repeated substance use is tied to larger problems of criminalizing addiction in legislation across the world. Viewing addiction as a disease to be treated rather than a crime to be punished has proven to decrease drug use. 

A key example is how Portugal handled its drug crisis through decriminalization. Following legislative changes, needle exchange programs and widespread treatment centers, drug overdose deaths dropped from 369 in 1999 to 30 in 2016, and drug related incarceration dropped to one-third of what it was in the same period of time, according to Statistica. 

The University should respond to students who repeatedly require medical attention for substance use with compassion and empathy, as it has been doing. Providing them with a more serious level of help and attention, as well as periodic checkups, would ensure that the student stays on the road to recovery. 

Deviating from this strategy risks compromising the reason why the Expectation of Responsibility policy is in place at all, students will endanger themselves and others by not calling VEMS due to fear of a permanent mark on their record. 

“I’ve told my friends that I’m under a strict ‘do-not-resuscitate order,’” a student, who had VEMS called for them due to substance use, said. When asked if they would simply stop using substances they responded, “No, of course not. Everyone else does.” 

In a college run in the Augustinian tradition, our Catholic values should extend to the Expectation of Responsibility as well. A faith that honors Jesus Christ, who called for forgiveness not seven times, but 77 times. A faith that has stood as a gleaming model of empathy and compassion for centuries.  

The purpose of this article is not to dissuade anyone from utilizing VEMS or seeking medical attention for themselves and others. Perhaps the University will change its policy, perhaps not, but regardless of the outcome, students should never fail to act if need be. Mistakes are part of being human and being a student, it is the conviction with which we rise that defines us, not the height from which we fall.