After UHS Trips, Some Students Question Amnesty Policy

Christine E Mansour

Students Question the Amnesty Policy

Tucked in an alley between Holyoke Street and Dunster Street, the after-hours entrance to Harvard University Health Services has been a destination for students seeking medical help for their intoxicated friends.

Administrators say that Harvard University’s alcohol policy, which guarantees that students who go to or take others to UHS for medical treatment stemming from alcohol or drug use will not be punished, is designed to encourage students to place health and safety above all else.

But for some students, the repercussions of an alcohol-related UHS trip carry over beyond the hospital visit itself—causing them and others to question whether they should make the trip to after-hours at all.

Harvard’s “amnesty policy”—first implemented in 2007 and reaffirmed in last March’s revised College-wide alcohol policy—states that students seeking medical treatment for alcohol or drug-related illnesses for themselves or a friend will not face disciplinary actions for any illegal substance use, according to the Harvard University Student Handbook.

For administrators, a concern about student health is the underlying premise of the policy.


“The important thing about the amnesty policy is that the health of members of the Harvard community is paramount, and so the prospect of disciplinary action should never keep someone from seeking help on behalf of friends or for themselves,” Ivy Yard Dean William Cooper ’94 wrote in an email.

However, the amnesty policy was also designed to take patterns of behavior—often seen in multiple late-night visits to UHS—into account, and it is this underlying concern over less formal disciplinary measures that some say limits the efficacy of the policy. Potential repercussions after repeated health incidents involving drugs or alcohol can include a warning by a House Master or Dean, admonishment by the Administrative Board, and, eventually, probation or requirement to temporarily withdraw from the College.

For example, after a student’s second transport to UHS, the Freshman Dean’s Office draws up a contract outlining, on a case by case basis, the College’s expectations for how he or she will avoid dangerous drinking in the future. At this second meeting, the deans also encourage students to contact their parents about the incidents to arrange a follow-up conversation between administrators and the parents.

“With the contract it’s not really meant to be ‘Got you!’ If you’ve failed to meet the terms, we have serious concerns about how you’re taking care of yourself,” said Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67. “If you want to stay through the rest of this year, you cannot be drinking and you cannot find yourself in similar circumstances.”

Some students interviewed for this story said they have taken advantage of the policy in order to get their friends treated.

“Looking back at the one time I did have to take a friend to UHS, it was more based on the impulse of making sure that that friend was safe and was in good hands,” said Jenny Choi ’16. “I did not feel prepared enough to be able to take care of that friend.”

Several others, however, said that the policy—along with the prospect of further meetings with deans and parents—may be a deterrent in deciding whether to seek help.

“There’s a thought of, ‘Why bring them to UHS if I can take care of them better myself?’ That way they have no disciplinary issues to deal with,” said Adam O. Brodheim ’16.

Juan E. Bedoya ’16 said that he has taken care of several friends who were inebriated, but chose not to take them to University Health Services because of the potential awkwardness of talking to an administrator after an incident relating to alcohol.

Another freshman, who was granted anonymity by The Crimson to protect her roommate’s privacy, said she has been hesitant to use UHS after her roommate’s second trip to Stillman Infirmary.

“The Dean in our Yard gave her the ultimatum that if she had to go one more time there would be serious repercussions,” she said. “So even though she has abused alcohol in a scary and dangerous way since then, my friends and I don’t want to take her to UHS because we don’t want to be the reason she gets asked to leave.”

—Staff writer Indrani G. Das can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @IndraniGDas.