During the winter quarter, the class of 2016 received a special email from the Robert Urstein, Dean of Freshmen, and Ralph Castro, Director of Office of Alcohol Policy and Education (OAPE).
After congratulating the freshman for passing the half-way mark of their first year at Stanford and for making great strides in reducing the number of alcohol poisoning transports during the fall quarter, the email took on a serious tone. It read: “As the winter quarter has progressed, members of the class of 2016 have been injuring themselves with alcohol more and more frequently.”
In an interview with the Stanford Review, Castro said, “The email wasn’t so much prompted by any particular incident. It was more of an inoculation. We just wanted to check in and give the freshman class some feedback.”
In fact, Stanford has seen a slight reduction in the number of frosh transports this year compared to the average over the last four years. However, cases in which there are deeper issues underlying students’ relationship with alcohol remain a challenge for the Stanford community.
“It wasn’t until I started college that I began drinking,” said Sarah*, a freshman, in an interview with the Stanford Review. After blacking out several times in the first month of school and being transported in late October, Sarah talked with Residential Education (ResEd) and a therapist. “I stopped drinking for a little while, then picked it back up again in late November.
“I’ve had untreated depression for three years,” she said, “and in December and January, there were a few instances where I blacked out and said some fairly suicidal stuff. Finally, in late January, I was transported a second time after drinking far too much and telling people I’d overdosed on Zoloft”, an antidepressant. Sarah was then placed on an involuntary medical hold in a psychiatric hospital for four days.
After this second transport, the residence deans held a meeting to review Sarah’s case, in which they decided to remove her from housing. This decision was based on past experience with other students in her situation, very few of whom have been successful without taking a break from Stanford.
“I don’t believe they made this decision in light of my particular case, but rather based on past statistics,” said Sarah. “I was not consulted throughout any part of that process, but I’m fairly sure my opinion wouldn’t have been considered. The Student Affairs department, however, did not make a decision until after interviewing me, after which they recommended that I take an academic leave for the rest of the year.
“I appealed this decision while simultaneously going through the academic leave process with Dean Griffith from Student Affairs. After interviewing me, three administrators recommended that I take a leave of absence, as they didn’t think my mental health was at a place where I could successfully manage my alcohol use. ResEd denied my appeal for my housing as well.
“Although I know both departments were acting in my best interest, ResEd certainly seemed considerably more punitive, whereas the Student Affairs staff appeared to be acting out of genuine concern,” Sarah reflected.
“In hindsight, I suppose this was to be expected. I do believe that I was bound to end up in a mental hospital at some point during my life, and it just happened to be now. The first time I was transported, ResEd did say that further transports may result in revoking my housing, so this didn’t come out of the blue, and Dean Brown reinforced this point in subsequent meetings I had with him.”
Student Affairs has placed conditions upon Sarah that she must meet before returning to Stanford. She must develop and follow a treatment plan for her depression and provide documentation that she’s been going to therapy and taking her pills. Additionally, she must learn to successfully manage her alcohol use in the residential community, and, when she returns, she will meet biweekly for checkups with a Residence Dean.
Dean Brown also expects her to send him a “personal statement that demonstrates insight into the impact of [her] behavior on others and the skills and strategies [she has] gleaned to prevent repetition of the concerning behavior.”
“I was certainly treated fairly by Student Affairs, but maybe not so much by ResEd,” said Sarah. “I wish they’d met with me before making the decision to revoke my housing, and not based this decision purely on past statistics. I understand that I probably am not the best person to make decisions for myself sometimes, especially given my track record of self-destructive behavior, but I still believe they should have waited to see how my treatment at [my psychiatric institute] had affected me.”
*some names have been changed to protect the privacy of interviewees