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The 'Good Samaritan' rule: A vital but flawed policy

As the memory of last weekend's hospital palooza is still fresh in the minds of the Miami community, it is important to further discuss Miami's alcohol policy and the effects it has on students' behavior. Specifically, it's vitally important to review Miami's "Good Samaritan" policy, as it is one that can literally mean the difference between life and death.

As many students hopefully know, Miami and the Miami University Police Department have a policy which allows for students that report an emergency situation to university or hospital officials to be immune from school disciplinary action.

The exact policy, which is published on Miami's website under the Division of Student Affairs subsite, reads that "Miami University will not arrest or take disciplinary action for a violation of Miami's drug or alcohol policies against those students who seek emergency medical assistance for themselves or other students."

The policy holds for reports to MUPD, 911 services, Residence Assistants and Residence Directors and McCullough Hyde Memorial Hospital, the website says.

In the context of many other policies that Miami holds with regards to student drinking behavior, this policy stands out as an exceptionally beneficial one. Almost no one wants students that engage in high risk or destructive behavior to simply get off the hook when it comes to facing the consequences of their actions. However, when it comes down to an emergency situation, the safety and well-being of students' lives should undoubtedly be the number one priority.

With that in mind, this policy, which reduces the incentives that a student may have to avoid reporting emergencies, is necessary to ensure that students will do the right thing in the most serious situations. One could only hope that in every case, students would opt to seek help if a friend were succumbing to alcohol poisoning instead of taking a dangerous risk to avoid punishment from university authorities.

This is the real world though, and students will act in a manner of cost-benefit analysis in these very real situations. In essence, this policy mitigates the potential disciplinary cost of saving lives.

It is important to note that, as with many others, this policy is not perfect. To start, students that have committed any other offense (Miami's website lists refusal of treatment, disruption and combativeness, possessing a fake I.D., committing assault and property damages as examples) during the incident in question are not eligible for the exemption. While some of these prohibitions make sense, others may unnecessarily deter students from seeking help.

More importantly, this policy is limited in its jurisdiction. While Miami may be more lenient during times of emergency, the City of Oxford and Oxford Police Department are not and have no exception for allowing students to report emergencies while remaining immune from prosecution or other legal actions.

This, of course, is something that neither Miami nor Oxford and OPD can do anything about directly, as they are bound by state and county law to uphold certain courses of action.

But therein lies a larger problem: while universities can act as safe spaces within a state, Miami's Good Samaritan policy doesn't necessarily protect the people in the way it's assumed. And while Oxford and the OPD are bound by state laws (which are also subject to change, as seen with the recent "911 Good Samaritan" Ohio state law implemented in 2016 for incidents involving drug overdose), the university has more leeway.

The Miami community has experienced a curious mixture of tragedy and apathy in the past month. It's not the first time that we've been through difficult times like these, and it won't be the last.

If the university is looking for more ways to keep their students safe from the culture that this town fosters, they need to look within their policy. In these situations, the well-bring of students must be the priority. A hard stance on drinking culture needs to be accompanied by a Good Samaritan policy that students who fear repercussion can rely on, even if they are apparently guilty themselves.