New policies added to student handbook

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To The Point, St. Mary's Student Handbook (Photo by Dave Chase)

New policies have been added to the student handbook, To the Point, detailing new medical amnesty and Good Samaritan, sanction reduction, and missing person policies, as well as changes to older policies regarding the use of evidence in judicial affairs, appeals, and sexual assault.

One highly discussed policy was the medical amnesty policy, which says that students who require medical assistance while violating college drug and alcohol policy can have judicial charges deferred. Tied with this is the Good Samaritan Policy, where a student who is in violation of the campus alcohol or drug policies who seeks medical assistance for another student may be granted amnesty from disciplinary action.

Amnesty is considered based on the student’s previous judicial record and severity of and student disposition towards the incident. According to Clint Neill, Coordinator of Student Activities and Judicial Affairs, if a student has a previous judicial record of violating college policy, it could prevent the student from receiving medical amnesty.

There were many forums and discussions with students, faculty, staff, Public Safety, and local Emergency Medical Services (EMS) workers regarding this policy in the past several years.

“It was time consuming, but I think it was the best way…in terms of policies like medical amnesty that could potentially affect the whole, entire college community,” Neill said. “It was probably the best process for that policy because we got so much input.”

Dean of Students Laura Bayless said that she was “certain students are excited that the medical amnesty and Good Samaritan policy is in place.”

Junior Aaron French said this policy is “a really good thing that will encourage students to be safer and more responsible.”

Another policy that was added to the student handbook was a sanction reduction policy, which explains that Bayless will accept requests for reduction of long term sanctions at least one year after the policy. In order for the sanctions to be reduced the student must prove that they have learned from their mistakes and must submit a letter explaining this to the sanction reduction panel and a letter of recommendation from someone in the college community.

The third new policy is a missing persons policy that which was mandated by the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act. Students can report a missing person to Residence Life or Public Safety.

Each year To the Point is reviewed and updated by the Judicial Code Review Committee which, this previous year consisted of junior Sarah Shipley as the Student Government Association (SGA) president’s designate, the Faculty Senate president designate Danielle Cass, Clint Neill, and Laura Bayless.

Some of the changes that were made included alterations to the wording of policies regarding evidence in judicial hearings, appeals, and sexual assault. The evidence policy was changed to make it clearer that evidence can be gathered from a variety of sources, including testimony of witnesses, electronic and physical pictures, and reports from a sheriff’s office, public safety, doctors or residence life.

“We just wanted to provide more information for students as to what could be considered,” Neill said. In regard to pictures or other electronic material he said,

“Our practice is that the evidence for those sorts of policies should be supplemental evidence for an incident that is already documented. That doesn’t mean that that’s going to happen all the time.”

According to the Judicial Affairs Web site, changes in the appeals policy made it more clear that the appeals process is to “consider whether or not procedures were properly followed.” Changes in the sexual assault policy were also made to make it clear that sexual assault can occur when a student “take[s] advantage of another student’s physical or mental incapacitation.”

If students are interested in voicing their opinions on policies in the student handbook, they have several options. They can contact the Policy Review Committee in the SGA or Clint Neill or Dean Bayless to propose policy modification or change.

French said, “A lot of [the student handbook policies] seem very positive and seem to be taking into account a lot of student input.”

Students Speak Out on Medical Amnesty

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SGA Parliamentarian Louis Ritzinger listens to student opinion. (Photo By David Chase)

Students have brought up their concerns and opinions at the recent Medical Amnesty policy discussion forums held by the Office of Residence life and the student discussions held by the SGA.

The Medical Amnesty policy as it is currently drafted states, “When a student assists an individual who is intoxicated or under the influence of drugs in procuring medical assistance, neither the intoxicated or drugged student nor the individual who assists will be subject to formal disciplinary action by the College.”

However, the student who required medical assistance may also be required to go through certain “educational interventions,” which could include a meeting with the dean of students or associate dean of students, an alcohol or drug assessment, and/or parental notification.

The forums and discussions, held over several weeks from October through December, were intended to involve the general student body in the decision making process.

“We are in the process of compiling and making sure we understand the feedback from students, faculty, and staff,” said Dean of Students Laura Bayless. “We did two open forums last year, and seven this year, so it’s a lot of feedback to digest.”

Although the student body has generally been in support of the policy, “Some students did bring up questions, concerns and issues about the policy, and of course, many students wonder what effect the policy will have on the campus and community,” said Area Coordinator Kelly Smolinsky.

Many of those who supported the policy still questioned whether or not it would encourage people to take more risks.  “I don’t want to see students interpret it as a sign that the College is becoming more tolerant towards underage drinking and destructive behavior,” said first-year Jackie Norris.

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Senior Lauren Payne and Sophomore Danny Ruthenberg-Marshall discuss the new Medical Amnesty Policy. (Photo by David Chase)

Whether or not outside groups should be involved was also discussed.  Norris, who also works as an Emergency Medical Technician, said that, “It is extremely important that Emergency Medical Services are included in the design of the policy since they will be involved in any case in which this policy may be invoked. It is important for the College to understand how the system operates, what its limits are, and what medical personnel are required to document.”

“I would say, get the Rescue Squads who respond here the most often involved. Let them know what the College is trying to do and invite them to a meeting,” she said.

Also among the concerns were whether or not some students would be able to pay for the cost of treatment, whether or not there should be a graduated system of treatment based on number of violations, as whether or not there should be unlimited amnesty for the person calling.  Students also wanted the college to acknowledge the high rate of binge drinking and offer more alcohol education.

“Student voice is valuable in this process, and I appreciate those that came out to share their point of view,” said Wellness Advocate Candace Daniels.

“We had really good conversations at each forum,” said Bayless. “The relatively small groups meant that the conversations were very rich.”

Student suggestions will be carefully considered.  “If we do in fact implement the policy, having something easy to understand will remove the debate of someone getting into trouble out of the situation. Instead of someone trying to figure out how amnesty applies by flipping open their student handbook, the idea calling for help will be a no-brainer,” said Daniels.

The administration will continue to work the students and SGA to edit the policy. Kelly Smolinsky said, “Once we’ve gathered all of the information from the forums and the student discussions through SGA…we will likely draft some changes to the policy and then pass it on to the handbook committee (which is comprised of student, faculty and staff input) for the final approval. If the policy is implemented, it would go into effect for the Fall 2009 semester.”