U.-Md. Proposal Would Encourage Students to Call for Aid When Drinkers in Danger

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

University of Maryland students have long complained that school rules deter them from calling for help when they are concerned about the health or safety of a student who has been drinking heavily.

If they have been drinking themselves, or have alcohol in their rooms, underage students risk being booted from campus housing or receiving a permanent mark on their academic transcripts -- major penalties for undergraduates.

Schools across the country are addressing the same issue as they try to avoid sending a message of permissiveness about illegal underage alcohol use and binge drinking without scaring students into inaction when a situation becomes dangerous.

About 100 colleges, including George Washington University and the University of Virginia, have good Samaritan rules that provide either a break or amnesty to students who seek help in a medical emergency.

At Maryland, the issue has particular resonance because of the death seven years ago of student Danny Reardon. His father said fraternity brothers delayed calling emergency medical services after Reardon drank himself unconscious.

Maryland students told a committee researching the policy last month that they had seen friends flee a dorm party after someone downed eight to 10 shots, slammed his head and was gushing blood. One student with emergency medical training said his friends called him, instead of an ambulance, after a friend drank 11 shots in four minutes. Another described blacking out for two hours, saying friends waited 90 minutes before calling an EMT.

"There were times when students were unconscious and nobody ever called. I wouldn't have expected anyone to call for help for me," a student said at a public forum where undergraduates were promised anonymity. "Our rationale for making those decisions was that there was a 95 percent chance that they'll sleep it off."

Now a good Samaritan proposal, pushed by students for the past two years, is making its way to the university senate, which is scheduled to vote on it tomorrow. The proposal could lessen the penalties for violating university alcohol rules if a student is caught because he called authorities out of concern for someone's safety.

The proposal would not protect students who break the law or engage in egregious conduct, but disciplinary or residence hall charges would be dismissed if the student met with administrators and completed an alcohol intervention program, if necessary, said John Zacker, director of student conduct.

"We are providing limited relief," he said. "We're not willing to overlook that you are in violation of a university rule and state law. . . . We're not going to completely ignore it, but we will modify our response."

Students 21 or older are allowed to drink in their rooms but not in common areas in dorms, according to university policy.

Students began advocating a new policy in 2007, but the issue died in committee at the university senate, whose 166 voting members include faculty, students and staff members. Many senators were vehemently opposed, saying a new policy would create a more permissive environment for drinking, said Brad Docherty, a senior and a member of the senate who led the working group on the issue.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company