University zero-tolerance policy could discourage seeking help after drinking

By Olivia Garber

Some students said Pitt’s zero-tolerance policy toward underage drinking would keep… Some students said Pitt’s zero-tolerance policy toward underage drinking would keep them from seeking medical help for themselves or their intoxicated friends.

Students shy of their 21st birthday will be cited for underage drinking no matter the circumstances, even if they are seeking medical attention, Pitt police Commander Francis Walsh said.

Kristi Rines, a 20-year old Pitt sophomore, who said she didn’t know of Pitt’s zero-tolerance policy, said that she probably wouldn’t bring an intoxicated friend to the hospital if it meant she would get cited for underage drinking, an offense that carries a fine of up to $500 or could require offenders to participate in alternative alcohol programs.

Rines said she’d call a sober friend or someone who was 21 to help.

Evan Wood, a 19-year old freshman, offered another solution.

“I’d sit them in a wheelchair, push them in [the hospital] and run,” Wood said.

Walsh doesn’t agree that Pitt’s zero-tolerance policy is a deterrent for seeking medical attention.

“The deterrent is you have to be 21 to drink,” Walsh said.

‘A tough decision’

Pitt’s zero-tolerance policy extends across Oakland to include not only the residence halls but also UPMC Presbyterian Hospital.

Students living in residence halls could also face citation if they turn to resident assistants for help. Colleen O’Connor, an RA in Tower A and Pitt sophomore, said that if an intoxicated student is brought to the RA’s attention by a friend who had also been drinking, both students could face citation.

O’Connor called it a “tough decision,” but said the RAs will call the police when they believe students are really sick.

“Only when the police are called do we write anything up,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor keeps a card that lists alcohol poisoning symptoms in her wallet to help her when deciding whether or not to call police.

Signs of alcohol poisoning include: confusion; cold, clammy, pale or bluish skin; low body temperature; repeated, uncontrolled vomiting; slow breathing; mental confusion; stupor; coma; or an inability to arouse the person.

O’Connor said that intoxicated, underaged students who contact an RA because they are concerned about a friend will generally only face punishment if they are also at a noticeable level of intoxication that required the RA to call the police.

“Technically yes. They get written up, but it’s better than leaving [the friend] alone,” O’Connor said.

John Hendershot, a campus police sergeant at Carnegie Mellon, said hospitals don’t normally call the police if someone brings in an underage, intoxicated person.

A worker at UPMC Mercy Hospital emergency room Downtown, who declined to be named, said that the hospital will only call the parents of an underage student brought in for alcohol poisoning.

Students who go to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital might not have the same luck. Walsh said the Pitt police have a detail set up in the emergency room at UPMC Presbyterian. Officers will cite any underage people who are in the hospital and under the influence of alcohol, even if they are seeking medical attention, he said.

Walsh said that if students are very sick, they should get medical attention, even if it means they might get in trouble. But he recommended that underage students not drink in the first place.

Jim Ross, a 19-year old Pitt freshman, called that idea “bullsh*t.”

“The reality is that it is going to happen anyways,” Ross said.

Offering amnesty

Carnegie Mellon, located down the street from Pitt’s campus, has adopted a different policy for dealing with the inevitable underage drinkers. CMU has what Hendershot calls an “amnesty policy.”

This allows underage students to seek medical attention for alcohol poisoning without fear of legal ramifications.

“That policy is trying to prevent people from not seeking medical attention when they need it,” Hendershot said.

Walsh stands by Pitt’s strict adherence to the law, which he says is the product of the University’s zero-tolerance policy.

“What CMU does is what CMU does. If we come in contact with someone under the age of 21, and if they have consumed alcohol, they will get cited,” Walsh said. “It’s not harsh. It’s the law.”