New alcohol policy awaits Ludman#039;s approval

by Beacon Staff • February 4, 2009

The Student Government Association's proposal for a new alcohol policy has languished since late October, because the administration has been slow to respond, said President Scott Fisher in an interview with iThe Beacon/i.

"At first I was told we'd have an answer by the end of the semester. Now I'm being told we'll have one by mid-March," he said. "I was hoping quicker action could have been taken."

Fisher has been working with Dean of Students Ronald Ludman to get the legislation passed, but so far progress has been slow. In an e-mail message, Ludman expressed willingness to cooperate with the SGA, saying he'd been working with several members of his staff to develop a "medical amnesty" policy. Under such a policy, students would suffer fewer punishments from the college if they were hospitalized for alcohol consumption.

Ludman said he hopes to create a policy with Emerson staff that will incorporate research from other schools and input from both the administration and SGA.

Under Emerson's current policy, students who are hospitalized after a night of hard partying are required to attend counseling, pay a $50 fine, and have their parents notified of the incident, as well as being barred from participating in some school activities. Many members of the SGA feel this punishment is excessive, including Katie Shushtari, a sophomore print journalism major and transfer commissioner for the SGA.

"We felt that being sent to the hospital was consequence enough," she said.

In late October, SGA passed legislation in favor of removing disciplinary probation from this aspect of Emerson's alcohol policy. Until the administration addresses the issue, no change in policy will take place.

Fisher believes that the possibility of probation is a deterrent to seeking medical attention, a view shared by many students.

Matt Hayes, a sophomore print journalism major, said he supports SGA on the issue, citing personal experience.

"All I can say is that if I were in a situation where I needed medical attention, I wouldn't want to go. I'm already on probation from a previous incident, so I wouldn't want to have that added to it," he said. "[The policy] shouldn't be a deterrent to seeking medical attention."

According to a poll taken by the SGA, 83 percent of students surveyed said that disciplinary probation would be the biggest deterrent to their seeking medical attention for alcohol-related problems. The SGA discussed various modifications to the policy, including lifting the fine.

Opponents to the policy change argue that if a student has been drinking enough to require medical attention, they shouldn't be in a leadership role in any school organization. One such opponent is Michael Lippi, a junior cinematography major.

"Everyone makes mistakes, but that's a really stupid move. If that's taken off (the policy), people would take advantage of it. It's a question of responsibility," he said.

Genevieve Roy, a sophomore radio major, had a more forgiving perspective.

"If it's something you do frequently, then that's a problem, but everyone has a rough night sometimes," she said.

Similar policies are already in place at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, although Ludman said such policies have not been in place long enough to measure their efficacy. MIT has had a version of the policy since 2000, and according to MIT Dean of Students Daniel Trujillo, the student response has been overwhelmingly positive.

"It's been embraced by the student community," he told iThe Beacon/i.

Fisher remains determined for the measure to pass. He recently started a Facebook group in support of the measure, which currently has approximately 400 members.

"[The policy change] is necessary for students' safety," he said. "I don't want to wait around for something tragic to happen."