Alcohol-related incidents add to anxiety

A succession of alcohol-related events on campus since September have some students concerned about safety, security and confidentiality.

Two incidents occurred in the past two weeks which have alarmed some students about the dangers of alcohol use. The first involved an alleged break-in by a student at the Cobble Cafe and a subsequent trip to the Health Center the morning of Friday, Oct. 24. The other involved a student who was transported to the hospital this Friday evening following an evening of heavy drinking.

Both of these incidents add to the current climate of anxiety concerning alcohol use at Williams. They follow an incident in mid-October which resulted in the Williamstown Police Department filing applications for complaint against five Williams students and four Security guards in connection with a party at Agard House where minors were allegedly served alcohol.

These events were preceded by two less-publicized incidents in September which involved students who had passed out after becoming intoxicated. The first incident involved an intoxicated student who had passed out in the middle of Route 7. The second incident involved an intoxicated student who had passed out in the Science Quad.

In addition, Director of Health Services Ruth Harrison indicated that workers at the Health Center treated 29 cases of alcohol-related problems in September.

Students contacted for this article had varied opinions on the events; some said they recognized a difference in the social climate this year, while others said that this year is no different than any previous year. “I think that the events this fall – at least the instances of people passing out or being in serious medical emergencies – are awakening people to the fact that drinking can be dangerous,” Tim Gustafson ’98 said.

Jess Richman ’99 echoed Gustafson’s recognition of the increased awareness generated by the recent events. She attempted to identify the cause for these events. “I think a lot of students don’t realize the consequences of their actions because the consequences [of drinking] are still an abstraction to them,” Richman said. Hopefully, Richman said, the events of the past several months will heighten awareness and prevent further abuses.

Incident at Cobble Cafe
The Berkshire Eagle reported last Tuesday that the Williamstown Police Department filed an application for complaint against a Williams first-year in connection with an alleged break-in at the Cobble Cafe the morning of Friday, Oct. 24. The student could face three criminal charges in connection with the event: malicious destruction of property over $250, breaking and entering in the nighttime with intent to commit a felony, and larceny from a building. A date has not yet been set for the show-cause hearing.

Police allege that the student broke a pane of glass in the front window of Cobble Cafe with his fist, removed a sculpture on display inside and then placed it on the sidewalk. According to the article, the officer found a trail of blood outside the restaurant when he arrived at the scene. According to the police, the incident allegedly occurred at 2:15 a.m.

Erik Holmes, the student’s Junior Adviser, said he discovered the student in the entry between 1:15 a.m. and 1:45 a.m. He contacted Security for a routine trip to the Health Center, but Holmes said what occurred next was far from routine.

According to Security records, the students were transported to the Health Center at 2:20 a.m. “Another security guard showed up five or ten minutes after we got there,” Holmes said. “Another five or ten minutes after that two cops showed up.”

Director of Security Jean Thorndike-Wilson said she was not certain how the police were notified of the incident. “It appears that they may have heard the call of a student with a cut hand … over the [radio] scanner.” Security and police are in the habit of monitoring each other’s scanners.

When the police arrived, Holmes said he went into the treatment room to inform the student. When the student was finished with treatment, he came out into the lobby and the police officers read him his rights. “They did question the student down at the Health Center about the incident [at Cobble Cafe],” Thorndike-Wilson said.

Chief of Police Michael J. Kennedy said the student appeared to have been intoxicated.

The deans have been notified of the situation; however, Dean of First Year Studies David Edwards declined comment.

Holmes said he was concerned by the fact that the police were able to track the student to the Health Center. He sent a message to the JA listserver the Saturday following the incident warning other JA’s about his particular situation.

“I wanted to make it clear that you should still feel fine about going to the Health Center because we don’t want people not getting treatment that they need,” Holmes said, “But if a situation appears to be out of the usual, you should consider walking them there as opposed to calling security.”

Several students expressed similar concerns about what appeared to be a breach in confidentiality. Cara Shortsleeve ’00 said, “It just makes you know not to go to security because you know if the radios are on, the police are going to listen in.” Edwards said that that is exactly the reaction he wants students to avoid. “The College remains convinced that transports remain confidential to the Health Center,” he said. “Whatever may or may not have happened we remain committed to that policy.”

Director of Health Services Harrison reiterated Edwards’ position. She said the Health Center’s policy is to ensure confidentiality. For instance, in cases where students are treated in the Emergency room and then are taken to the Health Center for follow-up treatment, some medical records are transferred, but those records do not get released from the Health Center, even at requests from deans or the police.

Gustafson and Richman shared Shortsleeve’s and Holmes’ concern with confidentiality. “It seems that this case should demonstrate that not enough steps are taken to ensure confidentiality,” Gustafson said. “It’s absolutely necessary that students feel comfortable accepting rides from security,” Richman said.

Thorndike-Wilson agreed, saying, “We’ll do everything in our power to keep it so they can get the treatment they need confidentially. . . . We need to reassure students that in a time of emergency they’ve got to call us.”

Thorndike-Wilson said she is investigating exactly how the police became aware of the location of the student.

Hospital transport
Another incident which occurred this Friday involved a student who was transported to the hospital apparently because of alcohol-related illness. The incident occurred in Mission Park. A sophomore living in Armstrong, who wishes to remain anonymous, described the student’s actions that evening. “He was pretty out of it. . . . He was puking . . . so we called Security. As we were taking him down to the security officer, he fell down

and started puking on his back.” Thorndike-Wilson was unable to comment on the exact nature of the incident. She said Security received a call to transport a student to the Health Center at approximately 12:02 a.m. The Security officer arrived at the scene but only left his car when a student requested that he come in
side. “The problem was the student’s condition. [The officer] did not know if the student was unconscious,” Thorndike-Wilson said. Village Ambulance was called and the student was transported to the hospital.

Thorndike-Wilson also indicated that student EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) were present at some point while the student was vomiting. Head of the student EMTs Dave Neubert ’99 declined comment, citing patient confidentiality.

Gustafson said the College has some responsibility in notifying the student body about incidents like this one. “I think it’s in the best interest of students to know about these events because it will make the dangers of alcohol abuse a little more obvious. If people knew that their classmates or neighbors were being taken to the hospital . . . then they would probably think more that that doesn’t happen to them.”

Sophomore Jeff Herzog agreed. “I think it wouldn’t hurt the Williams College community to be aware of some of these events because . . . if the college community was more aware they’d be more likely to take it seriously.”

Passed out
The final two incidents involving alcohol involved students who were so far under the influence they had passed out. Both events occurred in September. The first student was discovered by a group of non-students in the Science Quad near Thompson; the student was transported to the Health Center. The other incident involved a student who had passed out on North Street near Jerome Drive. Local police found him, and a Security cruiser transported

him to the Health Center. In a situation like that, Police Chief Kennedy said, “When he comes around, I want him.”

Students and faculty involved in the October Agard House party will appear before the Chief Magistrate in a show cause hearing Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. The clerk has not yet indicated whether that hearing will be open or closed to the public.

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