An increased emphasis on student health is the focus of a new Yale College policy on alcohol-related incidents rolled out this semester.
In May, the Yale College Dean’s Office announced the new policy, which clarifies an existing rule that students seeking help for alcohol-related medical emergencies will not be disciplined by the College. The policy, which now mandates health counseling or educational programs for those treated for alcohol incidents, is a result of the University’s aim to focus on alcohol safety, prevention and education over disciplinary action. While all freshmen interviewed knew about the new policy, the vast majority of upperclassmen surveyed were unaware of the change.
“It’s in the interest of Yale College that students have an appropriately low threshold for getting help and sending people who are seriously intoxicated to get help, rather than having students who are unresponsive or who are at risk of complications of serious intoxication, in dorm rooms, or lying on the floor, or in the stairwell,” said Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin.
According to Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews, the new rules arose from students’ desire for a more clearly articulated policy concerning alcohol use.
Yale’s previous medical emergency policy also emphasized prevention and treatment over disciplinary action, but the new policy makes clear that disciplinary action will not be taken against students who seek help for themselves or their friends. Students who elect to not see a specialist will risk being referred to the Executive Committee. According to Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin, under the previous policy, not everyone who ended up at Yale Health or Yale-New Haven Hospital went to an alcohol specialist after the incident.
The new policy differentiates between students whose intoxication is so severe that they have to be transported to Yale-New Haven Hospital, and those who spend the night at Yale Health. The latter will be required to meet with an alcohol specialist, while the former must also meet with their College Dean. Students who seek assistance for another student whose intoxication is entirely unrelated to the helper’s actions will face no consequences.
Students who are repeatedly treated for alcohol-induced medical emergencies may be disciplined. The policy does not define the threshold for discipline, which will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s difficult to put a number on the times that a person must show up in order to establish a pattern of behavior,” Goff-Crews said in an email. “That is a decision that trained health professionals at Yale Health will have to make in the year ahead.”
Although only three of seven freshmen interviewed knew that the medical emergency policy is new, all knew the policy now emphasizes safety over discipline. In contrast, only two of the 10 upperclassmen interviewed knew of the new policy, and only one accurately identified that the changes are related to the University’s public health approach toward alcohol-related issues.
Goff-Crews said the University has taken and will continue to maintain an active role in publicizing the modified policy. After the policy was announced in May, members of the Dean’s Alcohol and Other Drugs Harm Reduction Initiative met with students to answer their questions.
When informed of the new policy, all 17 students interviewed said they approved of the new guidelines. Many noted that students may now be more likely to both report their own emergencies and assist those in need of medical help.
“It makes people feel better about being able to help somebody,” Katherine Lin ’18 said. “Student safety is more important than disciplinary action.”
Freshman counselor Anthony Fumagalli ’15 said the freshman class became well-versed in the new policy through meetings with the residential college masters and deans.
“We want to make sure that every freshman understands that they will not be charged with disciplinary action should they call for help,” Fumagalli said in a Wednesday email. “We value the safety of all of our freshmen, and we want to make this policy very clear so they do not hesitate to seek help from the [freshman counselor], medical emergency professionals or any other appropriate figure.”
Daniel Henick ’17, who serves on the Undergraduate Student Advisory Board on Alcohol, said he believes that with this policy, students who need medical attention for alcohol-related emergencies will be less worried about being punished. Instead, they will focus more on seeking necessary medical assistance.
The new policy does not extend to punishable acts that students commit under the influence, such as reckless endangerment, hazing and sexual assault or harassment, nor does it protect students from criminal or civil liability.