Wellness and Health Advocacy

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On college campuses there is a significant trend of students choosing not report medical emergencies due to fear of repercussions received from being caught underage drinking. 

What is Responsible Action?

In order to encourage students to call for help if someone may be in danger from alcohol or drug use, Responsible Action protects the caller from Police citation and/or university discipline for alcohol-related offenses. For example, if an underage person is intoxicated from alcohol use, and calls 911 because a friend has passed out and is unresponsive after drinking too much, the caller will not get an underage drinking ticket if that person stays with the impaired individual, cooperates with responders, and follows through with programs deemed necessary by the Dean of Students office. 

At its core, Responsible Action seeks to encourage students to call for emergency medical assistance by providing immunity from police citation and university discipline for alcohol-related offenses. This policy has been instituted at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse as a result of an active collaboration between the Office of Student Life, University Police, and the Student Association. This policy is currently active, starting with the 2014-2015 academic year.

How does it Work?

This policy applies only to disciplinary actions related to the caller’s personal consumption of alcohol. They do not apply to supplying of alcohol, use or possession of other drugs illegally, or other crimes, and they may not apply to students involved in repeated violations of university alcohol policies. Failure to attend any required educational program may result in issuance of a citation or additional judicial consequences.

1. Victims of Crime – In cases where a student believes they have been a victim of a sexual assault and/or violent crime while under the influence of alcohol, the university will not pursue disciplinary action against the student for his or her improper use of alcohol. Students are strongly encouraged to utilize university resources and assistance if they believe they are the victims of a crime.

2. Person in Need of Medical Attention – When a student requires emergency evaluation and/or treatment at a medical facility for an overdose of alcohol, that student, as part of a disciplinary response, may be required to complete an alcohol education program through the University. In addition, a parent/guardian may be contacted after repeated calls for emergency medical assistance from a single student showing a pattern of risky behavior at the discretion of the Dean of Students.

3. Caller – When a student calls on behalf of an individual who requires emergency evaluation, the caller will not be subject to disciplinary actions from the university if the following conditions are

met: 

  • a. Caller must remain with the impaired individual until assistance arrives.
  • b. Caller must be completely cooperative with emergency responders.
  • c. Caller must complete any programs deemed necessary by the Dean of Student’s Office.

4. Student Organizations – Representatives of a student organization hosting an event is expected to call for assistance if they become aware of an emergency. Failure to do so will be considered an aggravating circumstance and be factored into any decision making regarding further disciplinary action.

Why was this Developed?

• In the International Journal of Drug Policy, a 2006 study by Cornell University found that emergency calls increased after their own Responsible Action policy was implemented even though rates of drinking remained constant.

• Fear of police involvement is the most common reason for not calling 911 during an overdose. After the policy was implemented at Cornell, students were much less likely to report this as a barrier to calling for help.

• Students who are aware that a Responsible Action policy is in effect are 2.5 times more likely than students who expect to face disciplinary actions to call for help when they see a medical emergency.

• After the state of Washington implemented a Responsible Action policy, 88% indicated that they were more likely to call 911 during future overdoes.

Questions or Comments?

If you have any questions regarding this policy- including how it functions or any additional comments, please feel free to email our Wellness Coordinator, Kate Ebert, at kebert@uwlax.edu.