New Alcohol Policy Initiatives Aim to Change Stanford Social Life

“It is the responsibility of all community members to ensure that the University does not, through their actions, violate the law.” The Office of Alcohol Policy & Education (OAPE) states this in the Stanford University Alcohol Policy it released before the 2011-12 Academic Year. However, in a survey last year, 68% of undergraduates answered yes to the question, “Have you had an alcoholic drink in the past 30 days?” For freshman, about half answered in the affirmative, admitting their violation of the policy.

The answer to this contradiction lies in the university’s two-pronged approach to ensuring safe alcohol use, involving the OAPE as well as Stanford law enforcement. According to Ralph Castro, Director of OAPE, “Our end is to educate students on the risks of drinking and to focus more on the educational aspect of what we do.”

Nevertheless, the Stanford police will enforce the law and students have received punishments for driving or biking under the influence, and possessing alcohol underage. “Students are held accountable for alcohol policy violations,” said Castro. “If they receive tickets for violating county and state alcohol laws, students usually have to go to court and may lose their housing.”

However, law enforcement is responsible primarily for students who are outside in public. Because most alcohol consumption takes place within the confines of a dorm or campus house, the OAPE has the opportunity to shape the student body’s attitude toward alcohol.

Much of the OAPE’s efforts have, in fact, been dedicated toward student outreach and involvement. According to Sam Saenz ‘11, the Outreach & Internship Coordinator, “As Stanford administrators, there is only so much that we can understand from day to day. Students give an informed perspective.” Many current undergraduates work as interns at the OAPE to forge the connection between administration and the student body.

The OAPE’s general objectives include studying trends in alcohol use, education and outreach, promoting sober social outlets, and applying the Student Alcohol Policy consistently.

“What we found was that our policy was not directed toward students, and it was spread around campus in many different mediums,” said Castro. Established the summer before the 2011-12 academic year, the OAPE consolidated all the policy’s regarding alcohol in different student codes and university policies into the official Stanford University Alcohol Policy.

The interns focus on alcohol research work on many projects to analyze trends in alcohol use. One example is the 21st Birthday Project, which sought to find out how students spent their 21st birthdays and to ensure that students acted safely. Students are sent celebratory messages, but also asked what their plans are and how many drinks they expect to have.

“We generally found that people actually do stick to their plan,” said Saenz. “The number of drinks they actually have is very well correlated with how many drinks in their initial plan. People who intend to get smashed usually do, in fact, have many drinks. But people who don’t have a plan are actually the ones with the worse consequences. Many report experiencing things they really regret. To avoid these consequences, we encourage people to make sure they have plans throughout their night.”

But, how has the OAPE directly impacted student life? The most concrete examples are Cardinal Nights. Featured in “Alcohol-free social programming increased” in this year’s Sep. 27 edition of the daily, Cardinal Nights offer social opportunities without alcohol through events such as movie nights, concerts, and off-campus trips. 15,646 total students attended 51 events put on last year, including the Macklemore concert, Cirque du Soleil, and Great America.

“We plan them at times when students would otherwise be drinking,” said Saenz. “We see it as an alternative to a social event. Whether or not people go out drinking after is on them.” Saenz said those who attended Cardinal Nights were less likely to binge drink because they would not drink alcohol until about 11 pm, when the Cardinal Night events were over.

According to Assistant Director and Community Engagement Coordinator Angelina Cardona, any individual or group of students can help organize a Cardinal Night event through their mini-grant program. Students send in their proposals online. Students initiate most of the events.

Upcoming opportunities off campus include the Lion King musical in San Francisco, an Alcatraz night tour, and Malibu Grand Prix. There is a Facebook fan page and an email list to stay up to date on future opportunities.

Cardinal Nights have been well-received. In addition to the large turnouts at the events, students rated the following questions as follows (1 to 5):

How did you feel overall about the event? 4.36

Had you not attended the event, what is the likelihood you would have been drinking alcohol? 2.49

How likely are you to come to another Cardinal Night? 4.14

How likely are you to recommend a Cardinal Nights event to a friend? 4.13

“We not anti-drinking or judgmental of people for different behaviors,” Saenz said regarding the OAPE’s mission. “At the end of the day, we’re supporting students and making sure they have a good time while trying to help them avoid mistakes.”

The OAPE’s harm-reduction model not only includes promotions of sober entertainment, but also helping alter the party environs. SAE president Nelson Estrada says that there is a concerted effort between both the fraternities and the university to limit the number of students at parties.

“Since Kappa Sig lost its housing for last year, we know now that the university will actually punish fraternities, so people have been treading carefully,” said Estrada. “Whenever there is a transport, wherever that student was last usually is culpable. Of course, the university is willing to hear our explanations.”

Despite the fact that a smaller percentage of the freshman class drinks than the upperclassman, most transports to the hospital are, in fact, freshmen. Because close to 80% of students enter Stanford having had no experience with alcohol, freshmen often over drink. Last year there were 69 transports, many of which were from freshman dorms.

“The first couple of weeks, freshmen have an idea in their heads of what college should be, so they don’t know what to expect when they come to parties,” said Estrada. They think they should be drunk when they come to parties, so the first couple of weeks is when most transports happen.”

The number of transports has actually been steadily increasing—from 57 four years ago—each of the last four years. However, Castro suggests that this is not necessarily cause for additional concern. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing, because that could mean people are more likely to call for help,” said Castro. “With health and safety as our number one priority, that is a great thing.”

In addition to the online Alcohol Education seminar all freshman have to take, the increased effort to limit all-campus parties is meant to limit alcohol problems in the freshman class. The overall attitude of stressing openness safety, responsibility, and above all, student input regarding alcohol attitudes has been reignited by the OAPE. Saenz sums up its most positive goal in one sentence: “We are beginning to shift the culture to one where students can have fun outside the context of alcohol.”

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