By Andrew Ta
The Rice Thresher
Rice's Alcohol Policy was amended over the summer to clarify the meaning and restrictions of amnesty in the event that Rice Emergency Medical Services is called, according to REMS Director Lisa Basgall.
The updated policy details restrictions that were previously unmentioned.
Prior to the changes, the Alcohol Policy only stated, "If a student on campus becomes endangered by the use of alcohol, students should not hesitate to contact Rice EMS, the duty of which is to provide medical assistance, not to report violations of policy," according to University Court Chair Lauren Theis.
The updated policy states that those receiving amnesty must attend a follow-up meeting with their college master, the Dean of Undergraduates, the Counseling Center or the Wellness Center. To be eligible for amnesty, a student must have initiated the request for assistance, and once EMS arrives, those desiring amnesty must not be aggressive or belligerent toward emergency assistance providers, according to the revised Alcohol Policy.
Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson led the directive to clarify the policy after the Student Association and college presidents brought up the issue last spring, according to Basgall, speaking on behalf of Hutchinson and Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety Johnny Whitehead.
"When students were unsure of how [the policy] related to the often thrown-around phrase 'EMS amnesty,' they would hesitate when calling EMS because they feared getting in trouble," Theis, a Weiss College senior, said. "The policy rewording arose because students asked for clarification, and the administration directly responded to us."
Hutchinson, Associate Dean of Undergraduates Donald Ostdiek and the college presidents coordinated to revise the policy, taking into account the expectations of the Rice community, Texas and federal law, and other universities' policies, according to Theis.
"RUPD and REMS will continue to respond exactly as they have in the past," Basgall said. "There's nothing different about the medical amnesty policy. It's just a written version of what has been our practice. The goal was to be more successful in conveying to students the importance of calling REMS when they or a friend is in need."
The updated policy clearly defines what is covered under amnesty, how to receive amnesty, and how the right to amnesty can be lost, Theis said.
According to Basgall, students should pay attention to how the policy requires cooperation with REMS and the RUPD.
"Failure to cooperate, including such behaviors as violence and vandalism, does not fall under the amnesty provision," Basgall said.
Martel College sophomore Alyce Chu said she would be wary of calling EMS now specifically because of the wording of the new policy.
"I wouldn't want my friend to suddenly get angry while drunk and not get amnesty," Chu said.
The new policy could force a lose-lose situation for students, Chu said.
"According to the Alcohol Policy, students who don't call for help 'may be sanctioned up to and including rustication, suspension, or expulsion.' But what if you know your friend gets angry while drunk, but needs help?" Chu said. "Would you call knowing he wouldn't get amnesty, or not call and potentially get yourself sanctioned? Having to make that choice is pretty messed up."
The University Court, which rules on alcohol-related cases according to its website, is unaffected by the policy changes, Theis said.
"Last year, we were faced with a University Court case that required us to define our own understanding of and requirements for EMS amnesty," Theis said. "The decided University Court policy matches the new policy exactly, which really speaks to the reasonable community expectations that are shared by all students. The published clarification will help ensure that students, University Court and the administration are on the same page and prevent future miscommunication from arising."
Jones College sophomore Patrick Shipsey said that despite already being aware of the extensiveness of the amnesty policy, he still appreciated the changes.
"Having it set down publicly in writing gives me greater confidence in RUPD and EMS," Shipsey said. "I was a little surprised to see that amnesty extended as far as provision of any intoxicating substances, but I think that illustrates that the safety of students really is their number one priority."
For the full policy, go to students.rice. edu/students/Alcohol_Policy.asp