First-year students and some sponsors at Pomona cried foul over what they considered unfair enforcement of the college alcohol policy earlier this semester, after some students were initially sanctioned for speaking honestly with staff members at the Office of Campus Life (OCL) about an incident in which a student required medical attention.
According to members of the Residence Hall Staff (RHS) who were familiar with the incident, a first-year student who had consumed alcohol at an unregistered party on South Campus Sept. 14 was transported to the hospital for medical attention. In accordance with Pomona’s “Good Samaritan” policy, neither the hospitalized student nor the student who reported the emergency were sanctioned by OCL.
The Good Samaritan policy, which is outlined in the Alcohol Policy section of the Pomona Student Handbook, asks all students to share responsibility for the safety and welfare of their fellow students by seeking help in emergencies without fear of repercussions.
“Sanctions will not be imposed on students who seek or receive medical attention,” the policy reads.
The policy does not explicitly extend protection from sanctions to other students who are involved in an incident and who discuss the incident with OCL or other students. However, according to some sponsors and first-year students involved in the Sept. 14 incident, OCL did implicitly extend that protection during sponsor training and first-year orientation by encouraging students to be forthright with Residence Advisors (RA) and OCL about incidents involving alcohol consumption.
According to those involved, the RA who responded to the Sept. 14 incident recorded the names of students who were present at the party on the incident report and asked a student present to provide information on the party. Later, Campus Life Coordinator (CLC) Brigitte Washington PO ’11 called in the students who were listed on the report to gather more information.
The students reportedly discussed openly the details of the events leading up to the medical transport, including drinking games and the consumption of hard alcohol, which constitute policy violations in the Student Handbook. According to students involved, Washington initially decided that these admissions of policy violations constituted grounds for sanctions. The students protested, claiming that they were under the impression they were being questioned solely to gather information about the incident and that they would not be punished for their honesty.
Some students accused OCL of inconsistency in its spoken and written explanation of policy enforcement.
“[In this case], the RA didn’t actually see the students breaking policy, so it was basically just hearsay,” said Michael Maltese PO ’14, a sponsor in Mudd 2 Back. “During [RHS] training we were specifically told over and over again that you can be honest with OCL and you won’t get in trouble, and that’s what we’ve been telling first-years.”
Immediately after the Sept. 14 incident, Maltese said he raised his concerns with Washington in an unsuccessful attempt to have the sanctions rescinded. On Sept. 20, Maltese and Head Sponsor Seanna Cadé Leath PO ’13 spoke with Associate Dean of Students and Dean of Campus Life Ric Townes, who oversees OCL.
According to Maltese, Townes said at the meeting that it was the first time he had heard about the issue. After hearing the specifics of the case, Townes decided to drop the sanctions.
“In that situation, I thought there was enough ambiguity that could cause confusion about the Good Samaritan rule that I chose not to sanction,” Townes said of his decision.
Maltese said that some sponsors and RAs had requested clarification from OCL on the scope of the Good Samaritan policy, pointing out that ambiguity with the policy might discourage students from speaking up in emergencies.
Townes said his office expects students to be forthcoming about incidents involving alcohol, but he made a distinction between the general expectation of integrity and the Good Samaritan rule.
“The Good Samaritan rule applies to those who are in need of medical attention and other students who are involved in that particular situation,” he said. “It is does not extend to [every policy violation] that occurs there.”
When asked how he expected similar incidents to be handled in the future, Townes said he could not delineate specific situations where the policy would apply.
“It’s truly situational. I just want to know what the facts are and we’re going to take things case by case,” he said. “My approach since I’ve been Dean has been that if ever there is a blurring of the line and people feel they are not going to make the call [for fear of being sanctioned], I have not sanctioned.”
Townes emphasized that OCL is not out to get people as a matter of principle.
“I want people to make the phone call,” he said. “We want that person alive at the end of the night.”