The final location of a series of press conferences promoting Indiana’s Lifeline Law and Text to 911, the University of Indianapolis welcomed community members, students, faculty and staff to the Schwitzer Student Center’s Engagement Center on Nov. 29. Government and campus officials spoke about the importance of the law and the Text to 911 program.
Indiana’s Lifeline Law was passed in 2012 and “provides immunity for some alcohol-related offenses, subject to certain conditions, to underage Hoosiers who request medical assistance to someone in need,” according to the Lifeline Law’s website. The immunity is provided to individuals who are forthcoming and cooperate with police, and is only applicable toward the crimes of public intoxication, minor possession, consumption and transport.
It has saved 43 lives that law enforcement officials are aware of in the last five years, according to State Senator Jim Merritt who authored the bill after meeting with six student body presidents who were interested in an alcohol amnesty law.
“The first thought I had was, ‘This is an acknowledgement that kids consume alcohol under 21 on college campuses,’” Merritt said. “So I took about 30 days to think about this, because it was a very big deal. And after 30 days, those student body presidents brought a couple more. We talked about it, and I agreed to author the bill…It is counterintuitive, but I decided we had to save lives.”
The Lifeline Law has gained support from a more recent statewide program called Text to 911. The program allows individuals to text dispatchers in the event of an emergency. It started in June of 2016, according to Treasurer of the State and Chair of the Statewide 911 Board Kelly Mitchell.
Text to 911 received about 200,000 text messages in its first year from a variety of people, including those who had trouble hearing and speaking and those who were afraid of being heard while calling for help, Mitchell said.
On college campuses, Text to 911 makes it easier for students anonymously to get help for friends who are in need of medical attention as a result of drinking, Mitchell said. The program now covers all 94 college campuses in Indiana.
“We really love our partnership with the Lifeline Law, because the other thing that we found is that people might feel peer-pressured not to call 911 when they need help for a friend,” Mitchell said. “If you’re at a party, there’s a good chance that everyone is going to say, ‘Don’t call, you’ll get us in trouble.’ But you can text, because everyone is always looking at their phone. Everybody. So texting for help has been a really valuable addition.”
UIndy Chief of Police David Selby said that initiatives such as the Lifeline Law and Text to 911 fit in with a common phrase at the university—“If you see something, say something”—and the Protect, Advocated, Communicate and Transform (PACT) program, UIndy’s initiative to increase accountability and concern for sexual assault and drugs and alcohol usage among other issues. He said that the university works to educate both students and the community about the Lifeline Law in order to maintain and promote campus safety.
Senior political science major and Indianapolis Student Government President Jason Marshall said that he appreciates UIndy’s commitment to educating students about the law.
“I think it’s just important that students know about this law [the Lifeline Law],” Marshall said. “I think it’s good for the school to put this [the press conference] on. It shows that the administration and faculty are here for the students and want to support them. So I think it’s good for the students to see that the school is trying to educate us, and to help us and I appreciate it.”
At the end of the press conference, Stevan Stankovich, an advocate for Make Good Decisions, the Indiana Youth Services Association’s campaign to promote the law, shared an experience he had nine years ago while attending Wabash College.
He said he was monitoring his fraternity brothers during a night of partying. One of his brothers came home from drinking elsewhere and was extremely intoxicated, so Stankovich and his other brothers rolled him on his side to sleep off the alcohol, and Stankovich watched over him for the rest of the night.
At one point, the intoxicated brother rolled off the bed, and Stankovich and his fraternity brothers rolled him back on. Stankovich said that he noticed that the brother’s breathing was rattling and that he was barely responsive, but the other fraternity brothers decided not to call 911 despite their concerns. The next morning, he said, the brother was unresponsive.
When CPR did not work, they called for an ambulance, but the brother had already died. Stankovich said that the brother’s death affected his family, his friends and everyone in the fraternity.
The guilt Stankovich felt persisted for several years, he said, and now he speaks about his experiences to encourage students to learn the signs of alcohol poisoning and to call for help when it is needed.
Residence Hall Director Alexandria Kennedy attended the press conference. She said it is important that Text to 911 and the Lifeline Law are available for students because some of them are hesitant to call 911 for fear that they will get in trouble for drinking. Marshall also thinks that it is important for students to be aware of the Lifeline Law and the Text to 911 program.
“I mean what it [the Lifeline Law] really is about is doing the right thing no matter what…No matter what the circumstance,” Marshall said. “Especially here at UIndy, we’re a close knit community… and it’s about looking out for one another, no matter the consequences. Thankfully, this [the Lifeline Law] takes away those consequences, to make it a little bit easier, and the new Text to 911 is big for students, especially [when] you’re at that house party and people don’t want you to call. You can anonymously text that in, so people don’t know who it was. So you’re still helping, saving a life. So to me, it’s doing the right thing and looking out for one another. I think it’s very vital and important, especially on college campuses.”
For more information about the Lifeline Law and Text to 911, students can visit text911lifeline.com