Lifeline Law may not prevent disciplinary action against fraternities and sororities

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Some students on Indiana University’s Bloomington campus are concerned that the school’s rules and policies may be discouraging some people from calling for help when it’s needed.

Indiana’s Lifeline Law, passed in 2012, is designed to provide young people with immunity when they call 911 because an over-intoxicated minor needs medical help. The law is widely supported by students around campus.

“I’m a tour guide here for the university and I tell all my groups about the Lifeline Law,” said IU student Kara Rogers. “I tell them not to be ashamed, not to be worried about calling it because it’s in the best interest of everyone involved.”

“It’s about helping other people’s lives, trying to make sure they get home safely or just trying to protect them in general,” said IU student and football player Derrian Meminger.

But those same students worry that university rules may be working against use of the Lifeline Law. Indiana University’s Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct prohibit underage drinking, and may not shield students or Greek houses from disciplinary action if violated.

“A student who chooses to be a part of Indiana University, obviously needs to live up to the Code of Conduct at IU and we expect that of them,” said university spokesperson Chuck Carney. “We always have an expectation of our students, that they are good citizens. And we would expect that they would call for help when help is needed.”

While the Lifeline Law may shield a minor from arrest and prosecution when they call 911 for help, it may not prevent fraternities, sororities and individual students from facing disciplinary action by the university, Carney said.

“There are laws and then there are rules of code and conduct at IU,” Carney said. “And so something that may not be a violation of law could be a violation of the rules of code and conduct at Indiana University.”

When IU or Bloomington first responders are called to a medical run involving underage drinking, the information about the circumstances are kept on record and made available to university officials. Those officials review the information and decide what action may be needed.

“It might be that we need to get in touch with a student to make sure that there’s not a problem with some sort of substance abuse or something like that,” Carney said.

It can also result in disciplinary action against a student, fraternity or sorority.

Rogers says the topic has been discussed among members of her sorority.

“People bring it up, just making sure is it okay to call,” she said. “Will it be frowned upon? We don’t want to get ourselves or other sisters in trouble.”

IU student Riley Kyhn says she has seen people in her off-campus apartment decline to call 911 for an intoxicated friend because of fear of disciplinary action.

“Nobody wanted to call because everybody was afraid that they would get in trouble, even though whatever the law says,” Kyhn said.

First and foremost, Carney says, student safety and wellbeing are the university’s top priority. But, he says there are no plans to change current policies, which are intended to discourage underage and excessive drinking in the first place.

“While there may be a concern on behalf of some students that they feel like they might get the house in trouble, our message is that that really has to be secondary to the health and wellbeing of the people around you and yourself,” Carney said.

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