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Campus News

Safety vs. the Law

By Leo Proechel, Staff Writer 

Imagine you’re with some friends, consuming things the law says you shouldn’t.  One of your said friends begins complaining of terrible hallucinations, vomits, and passes out.  You’re scared and think your friend needs help, but you don’t want to to get caught breaking the law.  What do you do?  What do you risk by seeking help and consequently exposing you and your friends?  At the moment, the answer to that question is somewhat unclear.

According to some interpretations of section 6.3.2 of the Warren Wilson 2013-14 Student Handbook, you should not, in the above situation, have a reason to fear punishment by authorities.  According to bullet five, entitled Good Samaritan, “the college will provide educational options, rather than mere punitive actions, to those who offer their assistance to others in need.”  On a similar note, bullet four, entitled Immunity for Victims, provides amnesty for “victims of crimes,” noting that “it is in the best interests of this community that as many victims as possible choose to report to college officials.”  

However, this policy begs a lot of questions.  For one thing, “others in need” might be interpreted as including anyone from students who have overdosed on drugs, to those who have been a victim of sexual assault, to someone who fell off a roof.  Furthermore, the term “victims of crimes” doesn’t seem to include those who are suffering from a drug overdose or another drug-related injury.  In other words, it appears as though your choice to get help for a fellow law-breaking friends in need grants you immunity from punitive actions for you, but not for your friend or anyone else in the vicinity who may wind up getting caught breaking the law in the process of your seeking help.  

To Leigh Manuel, Substance Abuse Prevention and Education Coordinator, this policy is vague and problematic.  “We’ve got a lot of feedback that there’s confusion. So I’m working to try to clarify a lot of that,” she said.  This is why she is currently writing a new proposed version of the policy, entitled the Responsible Action Protocol, or RAP, which specifies student protection from formal College disciplinary actions in drug-related incidents.  Under the RAP, this protection would be provided only if students follow three steps: calling Public Safety or 911, staying with the person who needs help, and fully cooperating with emergency personnel.

While Manuel is still refining her new policy proposal, she hopes for its final draft to address such issues as which parties will receive immunity in emergency situations, as well as whether students can receive immunity for non drug- or violence-related emergencies, such as falling off of a roof on which it is against school policy to set foot.  

Manuel doesn’t believe that changing the wording in the policy will, on its own, motivate students to seek help when they need it.  This is why she is doing everything she can to find ways to spread the word about the RAP.  ”It could be hidden in the handbook; that hardly matters,” she said.  ”Really, the reaching out is the most important piece.”  However, she still believes that refining the policy is an important first step.  The policy can only work, she said, “if everyone…[including] Public Safety and RA’s, are on the same page.  I know I’m going to sleep a lot better when it’s all in the handbook.”


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