Alcohol Solutions Group works to develop recommendations to reduce high-risk drinking
By Nicholas Midler
March 13, 2019
Part of an ongoing effort by the University to reform alcohol policy, the newly convened Alcohol Solutions Group (ASG) has been tasked with creating a set of recommendations and a concrete plan to reduce unhealthy drinking habits on Stanford’s campus.
The group, comprised of Resident Fellows, Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) officers, Vaden representatives and Stanford undergraduates, held its first meeting on Feb. 20, and is soliciting input from students in numerous town hall events and an online form. Its recommendations are set for release by May 15 and will be presented to Provost Persis Drell.
The ASG joins a number of efforts to reduce “high-risk” drinking on campus. An earlier attempt at policy reform that required student Resident Assistants (RAs) to report their residents’ drinking behavior to Residential Education was walked back in early September after heavy student criticism. Months later, a Jan. 7 email sent by Drell and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole — which announced the creation of the ASG — detailed what was termed a “new approach” to mitigating harmful drinking through a slew of initiatives, including the expansion of Stanford’s safe rides program, 5SURE, and alcohol-free social programming, Cardinal Nights. A later released set of reports on alcohol consumption on campus was also listed as one such effort.
One of the Student Affairs reports on alcohol trends at Stanford from 2012-13 to 2017-18 noted that 39.5 percent of 4,071 undergraduates surveyed over the five-year period reported binge drinking at least once in the past two weeks. An average of 53 students a year get transported to the ER for alcohol related reasons, according to data released by Student Affairs.
“I think we are presumed not to have an alcohol problem because we’re Stanford,” said Keith Humphreys, faculty chair of the ASG and psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor. “We have a healthy athletic kind of atmosphere, or maybe [people] just think it’s a place of academic excellence, but we really do have an alcohol problem.”
“College alcohol misuse/abuse is a multifaceted problem that requires a multifaceted solution,” wrote Ralph Castro, Director of the Office of Alcohol Policy Education in an email to The Daily. “The solutions need to target the individual, the environment and the system.”
Castro added that the ASG is using the College Alcohol Intervention Matrix (AIM), created by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to inform their policy proposals. AIM rates the effectiveness of strategies designed to reduce excessive drinking on college campuses. Banning drinking under the age of 21, restricting the sale of alcohol on Sunday and providing information about average consumption are some strategies highlighted by AIM.
The ASG is divided into environmental, policy and outreach branches. Each group is responsible for providing recommendations about a specific area of Stanford’s drinking culture. The policy group is focusing on formulating recommendations for University level drinking policies, while the outreach group is talking to dorm staff members, Resident Fellows (RFs) and Cardinal Nights about policies regarding drinking culture. The environmental group is looking at students recovering from drinking problems, and at the possibility of increasing substance and alcohol-free housing.
Humphreys said the two main things he’s looking for in any proposal are harm reduction and a respect for diversity.
“[Harm reduction] basically says there are people who will use substances, students are going to drink, but you can reduce the damage,” he said. “I will be thinking about what we could do that accepts the reality of alcohol use but also reduces the number of times someone has an injury.”
Diversity speaks to the different relationships students can have to alcohol, as some students choose not to drink for religious reasons, health reasons or cultural reasons.
“There are students with a lot of different ideas on how they want to live their life and spend their time and how do we make space for all of them at our University,” Humphreys said.
Laura Sussman ’19, a student representative on the ASG, echoed these sentiments.
“I think primarily what they’re [the University administration is] worried about is making sure students are safe as well as comfortable,” Sussman said. “It was really heartening to see how worried they were that students feel peer pressure to be drinking at college.”
In addition to school-wide reports, the ASG is being assisted by Stanford Law School’s policy lab, a Law practicum that began fall 2018. The law school course gathers data on the alcohol policies of different schools and their effectiveness, according to Humphreys, who co-teaches the course. One area the class has focused is ways of supporting people in recovery from addiction on college campuses.
“A lot of people don’t realize a number of people at universities have already had an addiction problem in their adolescence and are now in recovery,” Humphreys said. “They’re a population that’s often overlooked and they are affected by drinking culture.”
The policy lab does not develop formal recommendations itself, but is one of many resources used by the ASG to issue its final recommendations to Provost Drell.
“It’s just there to provide information,” Humphreys said. “The [alcohol solutions] group will take that and other data, and also all the stuff we’re gathering today from student feedback to make recommendations to the provost about alcohol on campus both in terms of policies but also programming.”
The ASG is surveying other schools for inspiration.
“We’re looking at different ways to do housing. Some schools have dry dorm floors that students can request,” Humphreys said. “We’ve also been looking at schools having housing that is health-focused. They would be substance-free, but they would be a lot more than that for people who are into athletics, yoga, mindfulness, health or that kind of thing.”
Humphreys emphasized that the uniqueness of each campus necessitates individualized policies.
The ASG is also tackling questions of how best to police drinking on campus. Several representatives from Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS), are on the committee.
“The amount of communication we can have between them and everyone else is going to be way higher than if we had to deal with the city cops of Cupertino,” Humphreys said. “They’re part of the Stanford culture and connected to the Stanford community.”
He also raised the possibility of a new kind of safety officer, somewhere between an RA and a police officer. Humphreys described the safety officer as “someone who’s like an authority figure but doesn’t carry a weapon or doesn’t have handcuffs.”
“Hopefully they will make policies that will make it safer and not less safe to drink,” Sussman said. “My very strong opinion is that you’re not going to stop people from drinking necessarily so make sure that it’s being done where it is 100 percent safe and where the residents are trusting people they can rely on that have the resources to call CAPS or the transport people,” Sussman said.
“It’s tough, you want to protect and you want to take care at the same time in a lot of these situations,” Humphreys added.