Admins respond to students’ drug policy criticisms

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A student received this letter from the Office of Student Citizenship after being transported for an alcohol-related emergency.

There is no “vast difference” between the way that drugs and alcohol are treated under MIT’s Good Samaritan Policy, Kevin Kraft, the Director of Student Citizenship, said in an interview with The Tech last Thursday.

After being urged by UA councilors to voice their opinions on the Good Samaritan Policy, students have been sending emails to the Committee on Student Life, which is currently reviewing the alcohol and drugs help-seeking policies, calling for equal treatment under the policy for alcohol and drugs.

While there are some “slight differences” in the way that drugs and alcohol are treated, policies that students are calling for “is essentially what is happening,” Kraft said.

The Mind and Hand Book’s alcohol and drug help-seeking policies state that “when a student seeks attention for an [alcohol or prohibited substance]-related medical emergency, MIT will treat the situation as a health and safety matter.”

However, the alcohol policy explicitly states that the situation will not be treated as a “disciplinary incident.” This phrase is absent in the prohibited substance policy, and this policy includes an extra statement that “each incident will be reviewed to determine if the situation warrants additional administrative or disciplinary action.”  

The alcohol help-seeking policy also includes the provision that “students who are the victim of a crime while under the influence of alcohol will not face disciplinary repercussions related to the incident,” but an equivalent statement is absent from the prohibited substances help-seeking policy.

This difference exists “because the impact of alcohol on a person is pretty much a known entity regardless of the type of alcohol and then with drugs — be it marijuana, be it heroin use, be it cocaine — they have very different impacts on an individual,” Dean Judy Robinson, Senior Associate Dean for Student Outreach and Support said.

UA President Matthew J. Davis ’16 says he doubts that the effects of drugs are unclear while the effects of alcohol are well-known for an individual, but if it is true, he claims that the need for an equivalent help-seeking policy is “even more obvious.”  

“If we are unsure about the effects of drugs on a student, is it not even more important that we get help for them right away?” Davis asks.

Robinson said that the addition to the help-seeking policy for prohibited substances means that “every situation will be reviewed to just look at it more carefully.”

“That gives some flexibility for looking at the nature of the drug use, the impact of it, what happened, what were the circumstances,” she said.

“[P]rohibited substances is a much bigger category than ... the other category, which is just [a] singular focus on alcohol,” Kraft said.

It is, however, within the jurisdiction of the CSL to recommend narrowing the policy’s focus, if they so choose.  

A policy where students have to “worry about … future repercussions” when seeking help “puts lives at risk,” Davis said in an email to The Tech.

In order to have a help-seeking practice that puts the health and safety of students first, there should be “no contradictions and no exceptions,” Davis said. “If MIT wants to tell its students that [their] health and wellness” is the first priority, “complete equivalence” is necessary.

Students have also voiced concerns that the current policy does not make clear what happens to an individual who is transported for alcohol or drug use.

The Tech spoke with a student, who asked to remain anonymous, who was transported in a case of intoxication. The student, who was underage, had attended a party in their dorm, and a friend called for help when it seemed that they were in need of medical attention.

Some hallmates noticed that this person was vomiting a lot after being asleep.

“I … knew that they were really drunk and they weren’t able to walk in a straight line, so we called the MIT police number to get EMS sent over," Lorraine K. Wong ’17 said.

"There were other people on the hall who were wary of calling EMS, and told me not to call the police and EMS because they were scared that there would be consequences for everyone around because there were other people who were drinking because there was a party," she said.  

“A couple of days [after being transported], I received an email from Don Camelio. That was a nice email. It was very in line with what I thought was the spirit of the Good Samaritan Policy: to treat incidents as health-related first,” the student said.

“Then, I received this very probably generic email from the [Office of Student Citizenship]. That [was] very different, like ‘oh you might have broken Institute policy, your registration might be put on hold’ and lots of scary things.”

The student was confused about why they had been contacted by the Office of Student Citizenship when they had believed they were protected by the Good Samaritan Policy.

In total, the student was contacted by the CDSA, the OSC, their RLAD, their GRT, and the Dean on Call.

“It was incredibly overwhelming [to be contacted by so many administrators] and it wasn’t something that I felt like rehashing over and over again,” the student said. “It was kind of alarming how many people get alerted to this.”

The OSC decided after meeting with the student that the case did fall into the help-seeking category, and the student did not face punishment.

A situation is considered help-seeking when a friend calls for help for an intoxicated person, or an intoxicated person calls for help for themselves. An example of a situation where a non-help-seeking transport could arise is if an individual is “passed out in the middle of the street and the police find [them] or [they’re] arrested for public intoxication and instead of taking [them] to jail they transport [them] to the hospital,” Kraft said.  

“This [letter] is not sent every time. In fact, the first point of contact we have with a student when we know it is help-seeking is Don [Camelio] reaching out,” Robinson said.

“We figure...out [if a situation is help-seeking or not] based on all the information that we have. Sometimes there is a police report, sometimes there is a dean on call report … We will … take a comprehensive look at all the information we have and make a decision based on that,” Kraft said.

“A letter like this would go out … [to notify] the student that we’ve got a report and [ask] them to come in and tell us more about what is going on. This is sent when the initial information we have at the time … indicates that [the situation was] not help-seeking,” Kraft said.

Though the student eventually realized that their meeting with the OSC was meant to gather more information about the incident, this was not clear from the content and tone of the letter. “It felt more like they were starting a disciplinary case,” the student said. 

“What I found through the meetings I had was ultimately: sometimes the police report has to reflect that [a call] is help-seeking in order to fall under the Good Samaritan Policy. To me, if a friend calls for help for a friend, I don’t see how that’s not obviously help-seeking,” said the student.

“I would have had a very different experience if I had never gotten that [OSC] email. I probably would’ve had a much more positive view of the Good Samaritan Policy working as I feel was intended.”

Matthew Bauer said that it is not the responsibility of the police to indicate if a situation is help-seeking or not, though Kraft and Robinson said they do use information from police reports, if it is available, when determining if a case is help-seeking or not.

In the case of a non-help-seeking situation, MIT deals “with [the situation] from a student conduct perspective,” said Robinson. “[We try] to treat … the students as adults. With that, when it is a conduct case, adult decisions have consequences.”

Students have also expressed concerns that the Good Samaritan Policy, as written, is unclear and unspecific.

Robinson said that getting feedback from students “around the communication and how we inform students” is useful.

Kraft said the policy is already clear: “when people are saying what they want is a clear statement, you know, the help-seeking policy has several clear statements.”

Kraft says that having a blanket statement with no exceptions or caveats “seems attractive when you’re thinking about it in the abstract” but that students in the review process “would want people to consider [their] whole circumstances, [they] would want people to consider flexibility.”

“It is a work in progress because we are not all agreeing yet on what [the best policy] looks like but it is absolutely about student safety,” Robinson said.

All three administrators emphasized that they wished to clearly communicate the policies with students and that the health and safety of students is the top priority.

“Dean Robinson, Kevin Kraft, and Don Camelio may want to assess whether communication is the problem, or whether the message is the problem,” Davis said. “When you attempt multiple outreaches to students; when you attempt multiple educational programs; and the number of drug transports does not go up, perhaps it is the message itself that is the problem, not how you are broadcasting it. In this case, that message is a contradictory Good Samaritan Policy, and it needs to change.”

Don Camelio, the Director of the Office of Community Development and Substance Abuse, said that when a help-seeking policy for alcohol was introduced, the number alcohol-related medical transports increased — more students called for help.

“I am confident that they would find the same result if they fervently enacted an equal help-seeking policy for drugs,” Davis said.  

Davis said that data has shown that the MIT campus has a “prevalent alcohol and drug culture” and the “number of medical transports is exceptionally low compared to our peer [schools].”

Until drugs and alcohol are treated equally under MIT’s Good Samaritan Policy, “no amount of educational outreach will be effective,” Davis said.

Editor’s note: a member of The Tech is friends with the anonymous student.