(BASIL JOHN / THE STATESMAN)
Students who call in potential overdoses in their dorm rooms can face punitive actions, though they themselves may not have engaged in any illegal activities. However, the Red Watch Band program implemented by Stony Brook University encourages making the necessary calls to save a life. Amnesty policies that ensure the impunity of those students who make the call that can save a life should be implemented by the university to prevent time-wasting deliberation by students over whether to call at all due to the fear of ruining their own futures. (BASIL JOHN / THE STATESMAN)

Debated across the nation and disputed between students on every college campus all over the country, amnesty protection is a right that young people feel entitled too, but also one that universities are not always so willing to grant. Surprisingly, the issue of amnesty is not one that is considered directly by students unless it arises in a social context and punishment is imminent.

A friend of mine recently divulged to me a situation that easily could have been the reality for so many students on campus. He told me about a friend of his visiting from out of state, who stopped by for a weekend of hanging out and catching up. He brought with him a backpack of alcohol, the hallmark of a boys evening in, and began drinking with his buddies in a dorm suite on campus. After having a few beers, and swigging from a bottle of wine as well as Jack Daniels, the UPenn visitor blacked out. Laying on the couch unresponsive while his friends from Stony Brook watched in confusion and angst, debating the appropriate course of action, seconds turned to minutes and a life hung in the balance.

The prospect of punishment was definitely on the mind of the young Stony Brook Student, who was 19 and had an entire academic and professional career ahead of him, yet he pushed it aside, grabbed the phone, called 911 and saved his friend’s life.

A day later, his friend had recovered from alcohol poisoning, and resumed his life at UPenn. The Stony Brook student, despite being the hero of the night, was now facing disciplinary action, including a write up for alcohol consumption, violation of the guest policy, and disruption of the balance of the Stony Brook community.

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An e-CHUG course was among the punishments for being involved in such a situation, making the student feel guilty of alcoholism when, in fact, he saved a life. The fact that this student requested that his name not be mentioned in this story, so as not to incur even more backlash from the university and his peers, highlights a larger issue about Stony Brook’s policies regarding lack of amnesty protections.

Where is the mercy, Stony Brook? Instead of being hailed as a hero for his courageous actions on behalf of his friend, this particular student spent weeks tormenting himself for the potential life that could have been lost. This guilt was not at all ebbed by the university’s doling out of punishments in a situation where such severity was neither warranted nor effective.

The university has a very strict “zero tolerance” policy for underage drinking on campus, which is understandable to avoid such situations like the incident that occurred here. But such a tight adherence to this policy by university officials fails to address the reality of the life of a college student; college students drink as a form of socializing and getting acquainted with the adult life that they are about to embrace. As much as laws deter underaged students from consuming alcohol, they do not completely prevent it. College campuses need to be aware of this fact, especially when dealing with a population that is so inclined to drink as part of a greater college culture.

Stony Brook is a pioneer university that implemented the Red Watch Band program in 2009 after the death of a Stony Brook faculty member’s son at Northwestern University, a a result of alcohol overdose that went unreported by his peers on the scene. This program was created to educate students about the dangers of alcoholism and to empower them to “make the call” on behalf of their peers who may be at risk of overdose in relation to alcohol or drug consumption.

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Unfortunately, the program does not offer any protection for the caller, who automatically subjects themselves to punishment once they decide to act on behalf of someone who has overdosed. The university makes sure to dig as deep as they can into the situation to punish you for any infraction at all. Someone nearly dies of alcohol poisoning and you save their life, but the university presents you with a write-up for allowing a guest into your dorm without signing them in; this seems a little unreasonable to me.

For this reason, students who are underage or who have any infraction at all on their record may feel extra hesitant to get involved in a potentially difficult situation that could ultimately land them in trouble. Although it may seem inhumane, this reasoning is actually quite common among Stony Brook students. They recognize the university’s lack of leniency which ultimately undermines their sense of community and comradery and promotes an every-man-for-themselves mentality that is very counterintuitive.

Parantap Saha, a senior who completed the Red Watch Band program as a part of his job requirements at the Center for Prevention and Outreach back in fall 2013, and again in spring 2014, admitted that although he is now 21, before he turned that age, “the fear was there.” He said, “If I was with other people and my friends were drunk, I’d rather they sleep it off than call 911 just to avoid getting them or myself into trouble.”

It is not uncommon for students to feel torn between doing the right thing and weighing the potential for punishment, even if a life is at stake. This inevitable deliberation for Stony Brook students, who are not offered any protection as callers, can be the difference between life and death; minutes wasted on deciding whether to call or not could make all the difference.

Although the program strives to empower students to do the right thing to save another life, it is only a half-step in the right direction. Stony Brook needs to implement an Amnesty Policy that grants student callers immunity from punishment in these situations to ensure that there is not a single obstacle standing in the way between saving a life and losing one.

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