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Responsible Friend Clause allows for alternative alcohol punishment

A new student policy could allow students to not face typical penalties if they call university officials for help when they or a friend friend are intoxicated and need medical assistance.

According to a new addition to the school’s Substance Free Campus Policy, students could face alternative penalties if the Office of Student Affairs finds they met the requirements of the policy’s Responsible Friend Clause.

The policy was primarily developed by Assistant Dean of Students Dr. Becky Spurlock after working more than a year on the clause. She said it promotes the community she and students talked with about the rule change saw on campus.

“The thing they loved most of being here was the community and the sense of caring,” she said.

For many students, that sense of caring was not as present under the old rules that forced every student to go through the judicial process when they or a roommate were caught with alcohol, even when one needed medical attention.

“Some students would prefer to stay in their room or not call for help for fear of judicial response,” she said.

Now, if students are intoxicated and need medical assistance, either they or a friend can call Campus Security for help. If a friend makes the call, he or she must also stay with the person until someone in University Affairs or Campus Security arrive to be considered under the clause by Student Affairs.

If the Office of Student Affairs decided to invoke the Responsible Friend Clause, both the person who called for help and the one who needed it would go through the usual student judicial process.

“Typically they would receive a hearing,” said Neil Jamerson, the Coordinator for Student Conduct & Academic Integrity. “But in this case, we’ll issue a notice but it will then be referred to me.”

Students would have to meet with Jamerson and possibly complete other “alcohol and/or assessment.”

“We want them to know how to handle it, why it happened, to have a game plan and be safe,” he said.

The policy purposefully does not go as far as several other schools in Nashville and the country. Similar policies at schools like Vanderbilt University, Rollins College and Elon University ensure students who call for help from intoxication or an overdose do not face typical disciplinary sanctions.

Spurlock said the school still considers student drug and alcohol use major and punishable problems and that the new clause still reflects that position.

“We weren’t going to change [the overall policy] because we believe in that,” Spurlock said. “At the same time, we also wanted to show concern.”

The policy also does not guarantee every one who seeks help will be exempt from judicial punishment. Spurlock said the clause’s lack of a concrete response was again meant to reflect the school’s values and allow Student Affairs to evaluate each case under its own circumstances.

Both Spurlock and Jamerson said potential repeat abusers of the policy would likely not be allowed to keep using it.

Managing editor Autumn Allison contributed to this report.

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