The Associated Students of the University of Montana unanimously passed a Good Samaritan policy resolution on Wednesday, pushing for the University to revise the student code of conduct accordingly.
A Good Samaritan policy would strengthen the University’s amnesty policies for situations in which, for example, a student seeks help for an underage intoxicated friend in need of medical attention.
Proponents of the resolution cited more than 100 colleges around the country that have enacted similar policies, including Montana State University.
“Our role in the Senate, I think, is to advocate for the health and safety of students, and I think that a policy like this directly makes students safer,” one of the co-authors of the resolution, Senator Jonathan Karlen, said.
Senators Izy Lyon and Vincent Tarallo also authored the resolution, SB 28.
Karlen believes ASUM and the University are on the same page about the resolution this time. Sandy Curtis, the director of housing, is even co-sponsoring the resolution.
“What I like about this policy that we’re suggesting is that we’re on the same side as the University,” Karlen said.
The President of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Kyle Yoder, and Vice President Michael Layeux presented a public comment to the senate in August about their concerns over the lack of clarity in the University’s drug and alcohol amnesty policy.
The University’s current rule, included in the “Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation Policy” of the student handbook, protects a student reporting a conduct violation from facing disciplinary action, but does not protect the student in need of medical attention or others involved.
Yoder and Layeux said they fear the lack of written protection can leave students confused and hesitant to seek medical treatment for an intoxicated student.
“An unwritten policy is as useless as not having a policy at all,” Yoder said.
ASUM passed a similar resolution in 2015, but it was not adopted by the University into its written policies.
Kelly Magnuson, the associate director of rights and responsibilities at UM Housing, said she could not explain why a written rule was not adopted by the University. She was not responsible for the student code of conduct in 2015, and the office of community standards had not been established yet, she said.
Magnuson said she understands how unwritten policies can lead to hesitation. She said UM Housing plans to work with ASUM and other parts of the administration to insert an amnesty provision in the code of conduct for Fall 2021.
She explained that the current, unwritten amnesty policies in dorms is consistent with a general rule of encouraging students to help one another.
“The approach with students in housing has always been for students to look out for one another and step up when they see something that isn’t right,” Magnuson said. “It can involve a variety of behaviors, but usually when students are engaging in using drugs and alcohol and they need help, we want others to say something.”
The residence halls at UM follow unwritten medical-amnesty policies, which provide for setting up meetings with students and discussing campus resources rather than reporting the students involved for conduct violations.
Magnuson said the current unwritten protections do not apply in all situations: for example, if an individual is dealing drugs or people at the scene of a criminal incident refuse to cooperate with authorities.
Senator Lyon, a former resident assistant at Aber Hall, said students often hesitate to get help due to confusion over what policies the University of Montana Police Department follows.
“There’s definitely a culture against calling medical,” Lyon said. “I think everybody’s familiar within college the notion of just sleeping it off, which is really scary for RAs.”
The Montana State Legislature passed the “Help Save Lives from Overdose Act” in 2017, which provides limited protection for those reporting an overdose—an effort to encourage people to call for aid. The act came two years after Montana passed legislation with protections in 2015.
UMPD’s operations lieutenant, Christopher Croft, said UMPD does not have a specific policy regarding medical amnesty, but just follows state law. Croft said he cannot remember a time since the state legislature first addressed medical amnesty, in 2015, in which the individual reporting the overdose as well as the one in need of medical attention have not been protected.
Croft said he could understand how students might be confused in some instances, such as when a student goes to an RA for help and the RA reaches out to medical services or UMPD. Croft said that, in this scenario, medical amnesty would not follow as a matter of law, but rather, would be up to each officer’s discretion. Unless an additional situation is occurring, though, Croft said, waiving medical amnesty is not likely.
The resolution passed by ASUM would prevent a reported incident from going into a student’s conduct file, but would not prevent referral for behavioral health options at Curry Health Center. Nor would the resolution protect a student who calls for help once authorities have already arrived or who “misuses” the policy.
Croft said UMPD would be beholden to UM policies and procedures unless it strayed from the law, but admitted that what constitutes “misuse” is unclear.
Croft said he would support the nuances of medical-amnesty policies being included in writing to help minimize confusion among students.
“We don’t want anybody that’s suffering from alcohol poisoning or some other medical emergency, choosing not to seek help because they’re fearful of getting a minor possession citation or something along those lines,” Croft said.
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