KINGSOLVER: Toss a legal lifeline to Hoosier students

December 10, 2011

Justin KingsolverImagine that you are a 22-year-old college senior and you walk into your house after a long night at the library to discover your 20-year-old roommate nearly passed out on the bathroom floor. Earlier that day, you overheard her discussing plans to go to a fraternity party, and you assume she has had too much to drink. What should be your next step?

Call an ambulance and seek medical attention, of course. However, Indiana code dissuades students from doing so. Under current Indiana law, by calling authorities, you as a legal adult could face automatic felony charges of providing alcohol to minors—whether or not you actually purchased or directly provided the substance.

Additionally, in nearly every such case, your roommate faces automatic citations of underage consumption or public intoxication.

Such fears of prosecution act as a heavy disincentive to making the right decision. Instead of calling an ambulance to save our friends’ lives, 99 times out of a hundred we merely give them a glass of water and a multivitamin, tuck them into bed, and hope for the best. Fears of university repercussions, parental outrage, potential court costs, career prospects and general disrepute often prevent Indiana’s young people from seeking help from medical experts trained to treat such cases.

Every death caused by alcohol over-consumption is preventable if medical attention is sought quickly enough. The fears that an antiquated Indiana code have erected cloud students’ judgment and elicit concerns of disciplinary backlash when the primary concern should be saving lives.

Yet, every year in the last decade, at least one college student at an Indiana college or university has died as a result of alcohol over-consumption.

So, I, as the student body president at Indiana University, on behalf of a coalition of student body presidents from many of Indiana’s great universities, ask the General Assembly to take every action possible to prevent such unnecessary and avoidable tragedies. Student governments at IU, Purdue University, the University of Southern Indiana and Ball State University have formulated the Indiana Lifeline Law—aimed at eliminating disincentives to seeking medical attention in such emergency situations.

At IU, we have already implemented the Hoosier PACT (Proactive Alcohol Care and Treatment) policy that mitigates university repercussions for individuals and organizations if they make the right decision and call an ambulance, commuting previous disciplinary sanctions into positive, education-based programming. Both Purdue and Ball State maintain similar programs.

However, the primary concern for individuals in these cases is not necessarily negative outcomes with their university, but instead negative outcomes with the court system.

As a result of many recent events, chiefly among them the troubling Lauren Spierer case, our university has focused on fostering a “culture of care,” encouraging students to watch out and care for their friends and neighbors. Promoting bystander intervention can dramatically decrease the incidence of sexual assault, drunk driving and violent crime, and strengthen our compassionate university culture. Enacting this legislation is a needed next step to support these efforts.

Many IBJ readers are, have been, or will be parents of students at Indiana’s colleges or universities. Refer back to the brief story at the beginning of this column, and replace the random roommate with your own child. Under no circumstances would you want your child’s friend to hesitate to act for even a moment fearing the disciplinary recourse of their actions. It is our responsibility to make every possible effort to prevent that situation from occurring.

I represent nearly 42,000 students. This year, I’ve watched and listened as an IU student committed suicide and as the search for a missing Hoosier has continued to no avail. Both of these incidents were unquestionably preventable if we as a community fully embraced our responsibilities to protect one another.

This legislative session, we have an unparalleled opportunity to do just that. Let’s save lives, Indiana.•

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Kingsolver, a Fishers native, is a senior at Indiana University majoring in political science, international studies and business management. He also is student body president and the former state chairman of the Indiana Federation of College Republicans. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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