This September marked an over 50 percent increase in the number of students hospitalized due to alcohol consumption, according to Public Safety (PSafe). Among students and faculty members, there is speculation as to whether the surge in alcohol-related medical incidents should be a cause for alarm or an indication of increased student awareness and reporting.
While in September 2007 there were a total of 14 hospitalizations due to drinking, this September marked a total of 22 students taken to the hospital in drinking-related incidents. PSafe statistics indicate that the highest number of alcohol-related medical incidents traditionally occur in September.
Director of Health Education Lisa Currie and Director of Public Safety David Meyer have also observed that members of the freshman class incur the highest number of drinking-related hospitalizations.
“[The month of September] is the highest risk time for students in general,” Currie said. “There’s freer access to alcohol than they’ve ever had before. So much exploration is occurring and many people just don’t know what their limits are.”
Some Resident Advisors (RAs) have said the problem is especially bad amongst freshmen.
“Drinking and getting ridiculously drunk and being sent to the hospital is seen as a freshman exploration,” said Colleen Carpenter ’10, an RA for Clark Hall. “September is known to be the crazy month, but it seems to be dying down.”
Currie indicated that educating students about the effects of alcohol consumption is an ongoing process at the University.
“Of course it always worries me if more students are going to the hospital,” Currie said. “But perhaps more students are willing to call to get their friends’ help.”
Meyer explained that PSafe has also focused on raising student awareness of drinking-related issues over the past several years. He noted that the rise in students going to the hospital might not be an entirely bad trend.
“I think it is a good thing,” Meyer said. “We’re getting a lot of calls from friends or hall mates. In most cases, we’re responding to these calls.”
Currie suspects that, in past years, students were more hesitant to call PSafe in cases of underage intoxication for a number of reasons, ranging from a parent’s reaction to insurance issues.
“It can be a hard choice to decide to call to get someone medical help for a whole host of reasons,” she said. “The focus has to be health and safety.”
Some students who have been taken to the hospital, however, feel that PSafe overstepped their boundaries in declaring certain situations as medical emergencies. One freshman, who wishes to remain anonymous, contends that PSafe unfairly compelled him to go to the hospital.
“The issue is that taking someone to the hospital should be an actual medical emergency,” he said. “Not when the Public Safety officer thinks someone is drunk.”
The student explained that he was awake for the entirety of the ambulance ride and was not showing signs of severe intoxication. Once he arrived at the hospital he simply slept until his blood alcohol content fell below 0.08 percent.
“It’s equal to calling in a false alarm to the fire department,” the student said.
Meyer explained that it is protocol for a PSafe officer to assess a student before an ambulance is called. This assessment focuses on signs of severe intoxication; factoring in consciousness, vomiting, other physical injuries, the student’s ability to effectively talk or stand up and other measures of inebriation. If the PSafe officer deems the situation necessary for medical intervention, an ambulance is called.
“The students [who were taken to the hospital] were unable to function very well,” Meyer said. “Students who are in need are getting the help that they need.”
Both Meyer and Currie stressed that when a student is taken to the hospital for intoxication, it is initially regarded as a medical situation, not as a University violation.
“We need to treat [hospitalizations] as a medical issue, not a punishment issue as it is at some other universities,” Meyer said. “Our main concern is the safety and well-being of the students.”
The Code of Non-Academic Conduct states that students in need of medical attention due to drugs or alcohol receive one exemption from usual judicial proceedings. Still, some members of the University community believe that the policy needs to be adjusted in order to encourage more students to call for help when medical assistance is needed.
Becky Weiss ’10, chair of the Student Affairs Committee of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA), believes such a policy reform is crucial.
“Students should not hesitate to go to the hospital when they need to for fear of being SJB’ed [going in front of the Student Judiciary Board],” wrote Weiss in an e-mail to the Argus.
Over the course of the year, Weiss plans to work towards a change in policy so that students in need of medical attention would always be allowed to go to the hospital without receiving violations. Instead of receiving potential charges from the SJB, the student would be referred directly to Health Services.
“By bypassing the SJB, I believe that students in need of medical assistance will make smarter choices by choosing to go to the hospital rather than attempting to sleep off a potentially dangerous situation,” Weiss said.
Current University policy compels students who have received alcohol-related medical treatment to attend an alcohol education class called “CHOICES” run by WesWELL, a division of the University’s Health Services. The two-part class urges students to examine their choices based on viable health information and allows them the opportunity to think about how they can avoid this scenario in the future.
“For the most part people are responsive,” said Currie, the program leader. “It’s not preachy.”
Working at the University for eight years has allowed Currie to observe trends in the individuals who complete the CHOICES program.
“Relatively few people have gone to the hospital twice,” Currie said. “It’s such a horrible experience for people, that they’re never going to want to repeat it again.”