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U of M tries new drug and alcohol consequence: calling Mom and Dad

University of Michigan near Rackham and Michigan League
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Students walk on the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor campus (file photo)

This year, freshman at the University of Michigan face a new consequence if they violate the school’s drug and alcohol policy: Mom and Dad.

Michigan announced today it’s piloting a new policy, alerting parents of first-year students under the age of 21 if:

1) The student violates the drug and alcohol policy for a second time, or;

2) The student violates the policy in a way that results in them needing medical attention, doing serious property damage, or driving under the influence.

But this isn’t about ratting kids out, says Mary Jo Desprez, who’s the Wolverine Wellness Director at the University Health Service.

"This really is about their health and well-being, not about screwing up or breaking a law or doing something wrong,” Desprez says. "Any time you can broaden the network of support in an early intervention, you have a much higher chance of that early intervention working. So that parent/family communication is about, 'Who is the best network of support for that student?”

Desprez says they’re piloting the new policy this year after seeing it at several other schools, and they’ll be tracking both how parents respond – and how students do, too.

“Some will probably tell you, ‘It’s so good that I was able to talk to my mom and dad about what was going on,’” she says. “And we’re going to have some students saying, ‘It’s none of my mom and dad’s business.’ But I think the most honest thing I can tell you is, we’re going to have students all along the continuum.”

Desprez says the school will let students know before they notify parents about violations, so that students can have a conversation with the school if they feel getting their parents involved would create an unsafe situation.

“What we don’t want to do is make a call to a parent or family and escalate a problem that a student may be having in context of that,” she says. “The student will be able to tell us. And that will be reviewed by a small team of people…to say, is that communication in the best interest of the student?”  

By the end of the year, Dezprez says they’ll have numbers on whether there were reductions in violations, and whether there were any withdrawals from school resulting from the new policy. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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