In her first major announcement about student life and support at MIT, today Vice President and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson informed students that MIT’s Good Samaritan Amnesty Policy will now offer protections from disciplinary action for students and student organizations that seek help during medical emergencies involving prohibited substances. This change is an expansion designed to increase help-seeking among students.
“Because [Chancellor Barnhart and I] are both committed to ensuring that MIT’s policies reinforce and advance a caring, supportive community, we are modifying this policy to respond to your concerns and to make clear that we value your health and safety above all else,” Nelson wrote to students.
Last spring, more than 100 students wrote to the Committee on Student Life (CSL) calling for clearer help-seeking rules that treat alcohol and drug-related medical emergencies the same. Barnhart signaled her support for changing the policy, saying she believes “it is essential to have clear, fair rules that students understand and follow in the event they are worried about a friend or peer.” Many of MIT’s peer institutions already provide a similar protection for prohibited substance-related medical emergencies.
Barnhart said she and Nelson, who started in her new role on July 1, would take action after receiving recommendations from the CSL, which had launched a review of help-seeking policies in the 2015-2016 academic year.
The updated policy, which is available in the 2016-17 Mind and Hand Book, reflects input and direction from the CSL as well as a cross section of the MIT community. In recent weeks, Barnhart and Nelson solicited feedback on the new rules from MIT student groups, including the Undergraduate Association, Graduate Student Council, Dormitory Council, Panhellenic Association, Interfraternity Council, and the Living Group Council. MIT Medical, MIT Police, heads of house, and other faculty and staff were also consulted in order to develop a clear, balanced policy.
Under the new rules, students and student organizations that seek help for a fellow student in an alcohol or prohibited substance-related medical emergency will not face disciplinary action under MIT’s alcohol and drug policies. The individual or individuals receiving medical attention will also be exempt from alcohol and drug policy sanctions. Instead, the student for whom help was summoned and the student or student organization that requested help may be required to complete educational and/or counseling programs designed to reduce risk and promote health and wellbeing. Students or student organizations that fail to complete the education or counseling requirement may lose the protections offered by the Good Samaritan Amnesty Policy.
In addition to increasing help-seeking, Nelson said the new rules have also been expanded to eliminate a disincentive to reporting crimes or significant policy violations even if there is no medical emergency. Now students who are under the influence of alcohol or prohibited substances can report that they were the victim of or witness to crimes and policy violations, such as hazing or sexual misconduct, without having to fear they will be subject to disciplinary action for alcohol and drug offenses.
More information about this portion of the new Good Samaritan Amnesty Policy as well as additional details about how MIT defines prohibited substances and education and counseling programming can be found in this FAQ.
In her letter to students, Nelson asked them for help getting the word out about these important changes. “We need to raise awareness about and trust in the new policies. I realize this will take time. And I know it matters how words on paper get applied in real life,” Nelson wrote. “The new DSL organizational structure, which allows for better connections between our student support and residential life teams, is going to help us get this implementation right and help foster transparency with students.”