Drugs and alcohol will always be present on college campuses, regardless of rules. Universities often struggle to find the line between actively suppressing illegal substances and ensuring students get the help they need if they endanger themselves. NYU practices what is called the “Good Samaritan Policy.” This policy claims that students will not be disciplined if they ask for help when someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning or an overdose. However, the policy’s exact wording leaves room for a variety of interpretations.
While it can be reassuring that the university’s top priority is the health and safety of its students, its policy is unclear. The reality is that this measure actually serves to exonerate the university from whatever negative outcomes result from its current stance. In deliberately vague language, NYU’s policy states that “The University reserves the right to address any associated acts that compromise the well-being of the community and its members” and that it will handle these events, “on a case-by-case basis” leaving students guessing as to what possible actions may be taken against them.
In comparison, Columbia University’s policy explicitly states its intention of protecting the student in need of medical attention, the student responsible for reporting the incidence and all other parties involved. Since NYU and Columbia students cope with the same city environment, it would be reasonable to expect similar guidelines for dealing with life threatening situations. It is unacceptable to create an environment in which there is an active deterrent to saving the life of a peer. Studies have shown that most people who witness an overdose do not call for help, because they fear legal consequences. These statistics suggest a high probability of lethal scenarios that only seem more likely to happen in a city such as ours.
While the university is certainly within its rights to investigate and discipline alcohol and drug related offenses, the policy’s ambiguous wording does not help students or the administration. A more explicit approach, modeled after the policies put out by Columbia and Cornell University, would create an environment that both protects the well being of students and clearly defines the authority of university staff. It is apparent in the policy statement that Student Affairs’ intentions are in the right place — they still stress that student well being will remain a top priority — but they have left a gray area that might deter students from saving the lives of their peers.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Jan. 30 print edition. Email the Editorial Board at [email protected]