Updated help-seeking policy protects student organizations from alcohol, drug sanctions

Student leaders worked with admins to revise policy

MIT’s Good Samaritan Amnesty Policy now treats alcohol and prohibited substances equally, new vice president of student life Suzy M. Nelson announced in an email to the MIT community last Thursday.

The policy, which previously applied to individual students, has been extended to offer protection from alcohol and drug sanctions to student organizations which include recognized and unrecognized groups, sports teams, fraternities, sororities, independent living groups. While the policy does not consider an entire MIT dorm as a student organization, the policy applies to floors, suites, and other groups within a residence.

Additionally, the new policy extends protections to students who maybe have been under the influence of prohibited substances or alcohol when they witnessed or were the victim of a crime or “a significant violation of MIT policy” such as hazing, the policy states.

One student can make a call on behalf of an entire student organization so that the policy will extend to the group.

Students and student organizations that use the Good Samaritan Amnesty Policy may be required to complete educational programming or counseling.

An FAQ about the policy states that an individual might have to complete “substance abuse assessment and supportive individualized harm reduction programs” run through the Community Development and Substance Abuse. For student organizations using the help-seeking policy, members might have to complete a “review of risk management and/or harm reduction strategies to support student health and well-being.”

It is difficult to tell what the outcomes of any particular case might be since every situation has different circumstances, said Don Camelio, Director of Office of Community Development and Substance Abuse. “Each case is going to be evaluated on an individual basis and ... my primary goal in every situation will be to ensure there is an educational outcome that helps students be safe and well.”

If students or student groups do not complete the necessary educational programs, they may be referred to the Office of Student Citizenship and will render them “ineligible for protection from disciplinary consequences.”

Depending on the situation, the student group, the students who call for help, and/or the student for whom help is being called may have to complete these programs.

“Generally speaking, if [a help-seeker is] of age and using alcohol responsibly, [they] will not be subject to the policy’s educational requirement,” Camelio said. If a help seeker is under the influence of alcohol and “acting belligerent or engaging in problematic behavior,” or if the help seeker had been using any prohibited substances, “regardless of expressed behavior, [they] will be required to take part in an educational program,” Camelio said.

In past cases, students have had negative experiences with processes involving the help-seeking policy since it was unclear to administrators if the help-seeking policy even applied to their situation.

“Now that we have this new policy, we are going to be talking to MIT Police about how to ensure police reports include information about who called for help. This will ensure that we can immediately classify cases appropriately,” Camelio said.

Camelio says that it is sometimes difficult to tell right away if a case is help-seeking or not because “the Dean on Call and DSL don’t always know from police reports who initiated the call for medical attention.”

In these cases, administrators follow up with the students involved to determine if the case should be handled by the Office of Community Development and Substance Abuse (if the help-seeking policy does apply) or by the Office of Student Citizenship (if the help-seeking policy does not apply).

To make the process surrounding the Good Samaritan Amnesty Policy as clear as possible, the CDSA will release a flow chart this fall.

The policy notes that while the Good Samaritan Amnesty Policy can protect students and student organizations from disciplinary actions from MIT, it does not “preclude or prevent” any police action. Furthermore, the policy says that students must call for help if it is clear that a fellow student is in need of medical attention. The policy states that students should contact emergency officials by calling 100 (on campus) or 617-253-1212.

“The call goes to police because the police and EMS are first-responders and are in the best position to provide life-saving help,” Camelio said.

If a student has a prohibited-substances related medical emergency and is found selling, manufacturing, or distributing prohibited substances, they are ineligible for protections from disciplinary action as these are seen as “egregious violations” of MIT policy. However, in these cases, students are still required to call for help if there is a medical emergency.

“In cases where there have been other violations of Institute policy, calling for assistance for an individual in need of help may be considered a mitigating factor in any disciplinary process arising out of such violations (and failure to seek assistance may be considered an aggravating factor in any such disciplinary process),” the policy states.

“I also think it’s important for students to understand that MIT Police want to keep our community safe by working with students, and they believe policing is about education just as much as it’s about enforcement. We worked closely with them while developing the new Good Samaritan Policy and they understand the importance of lowering barriers to help-seeking for students,” Camelio said.  

Student leaders, who worked with administrators to update the policy, have responded positively.

“I believe that the policy has been significantly revised for the better and is now one of the more progressive Good Samaritan Policies in the country,” Interfraternity Council President David Dellal ’17 told The Tech in an email.

“Don Camelio and Suzy [Nelson] were both very responsive to our feedback. All of the major concerns that we voiced were addressed,” DormCon Vice President Yuge Ji ’18 told The Tech in an email.

“The new policy has addressed many concerns that students have previously voiced for why they may be hesitant to call,” Dellal said.

One concern students had about the old policy was that it considered spotting (trip sitting) and the social sharing of drugs to be an egregious violation of Institute policy and punishable by sanctions. Camelio said that these concerns “created strong barriers to help-seeking in medical emergencies.” In order to reduce barriers and respond to students’ concerns, the updated policy “does not automatically exclude spotting or social sharing from the policy’s protections,” said Camelio​.

“We hope that students have no reservations about using the Good Samaritan policy. Calling for help is always the best option and the updated policy makes that clear,” Ji added.

Panhel President Caitlyn Mason ’17 echoed these sentiments, saying that she thinks this new policy “removes lingering confusion” about MIT’s help-seeking policy and anticipates that it will help students feel empowered to call for help when help is needed.

“I believe that students will be enthusiastic to see that their voices have been heard and that the new policy further prioritizes student health and safety over disciplinary action,” Dellal said.