Students react negatively to new Summer Session alcohol policy

July 26, 2012, 3:04 a.m.

Several students and resident assistants (RAs) disagree with the University’s newest alcohol policy, which bans the storage and consumption of hard alcohol during the Summer Session, regardless of age. Two administrators have confirmed that there are no plans to implement this policy during the academic school year.

Despite administrators’ claims that the new policy will lead to a safer environment for students to live in, there is fear the policy is doing the exact opposite.

Several RAs who spoke on the condition of anonymity told The Daily they believe that the new policy is leading to the demise of Stanford’s unofficial “open-door” policy, in which house staff members encourage students to leave their doors open when drinking so staff members can check in from time to time. This unofficial rule exists to foster a greater sense of trust between students and staff members, resulting in more honest conversations about substance usage.

“It’s a bad idea– I’ve seen nothing but closed doors this summer,” said one Summer Session RA in an email. “It’s unsafe (and exactly why schools with harsh alcohol policies have so many problems) and does nothing to foster dorm community.”

Despite these concerns, however, Assistant Dean of Summer Session Jess Matthews stated that the statistics relating hard liquor to incidents such as emergency-room transports negate the effectiveness of the open-door policy during the shortened Summer Session.

“On the one hand, we very much respect the open-door culture and see how it can enable a safe drinking environment,” said Matthews. “On the other hand, we know that at Stanford, as well as at our peer institutions, consumption of hard alcohol is involved in almost 100 percent of serious drinking incidents.”

It is unclear, however, whether Summer Session has had alcohol-related problems in the past. Administrators say they do not track alcohol transport data during summer.

RAs have also expressed concern about the negative effects that the hard liquor policy appears to be having on the relationship between students and summer staff members.

“I think [the policy] is really detrimental to the staff-resident relationship,” said one Summer Session RA who also serves on house staff during the academic year. “Our residents don’t want to get to know us, which sucks because I’m used to my freshmen loving me.”

In addition to the Stanford students and staff members who are on campus this summer, this year’s Summer Session is home to 550 visiting students, Matthews said.

She said that many of these visitors are taking eight to 12 units and are not familiar with how alcohol and discipline policies work on campus, despite living with Stanford students. She cited this intermingling of students as part of the reason for the new policy.

“Given the very short duration of Summer Session and the presence of hundreds of visiting students, we are not able to build the kind of nuanced and carefully crafted consensual culture that prevails during the academic year,” said Matthews. “So for this summer, we chose the path of caution.”

Many have questioned administrators’ decision to enforce the policy among students over the legal drinking age. The original email sent out by Matthews stated that only “beer and wine are permissible under legal guidelines for 21+.” The consequences of violating the summer’s hard alcohol ban are applicable for all students, regardless of age.

“Regardless if a student is over or under 21, drinking hard alcohol increases the risks inherent in alcohol consumption, including blacking out, and more severely, police citations or ER transports,” Matthews said.

According to Associate Dean of Student Affairs Ralph Castro, roughly 28 percent of alcohol-related emergency-room transports over the last four years are for students 21 and older. In comparison, at any given time, roughly 38 percent of the student population is over the legal drinking age.

Matthews was also quick to point out that it wouldn’t make sense if the policy wasn’t enforced for those over the age of 21, and that failing to do so would present the idea that Stanford condones underage drinking.

“It is important to remember that students who consume alcohol under the age of 21 are breaking the law, as Stanford follows federal laws,” said Matthews. “A policy that excluded 21+ would give the message that we are accepting of underage students violating the legal drinking age.”

Assistant Dean Matthews confirmed that the policy has been enforced at least once this summer, but Summer Session RAs do not appear to be the ones doing the enforcing.

“I’ve heard of house directors breaking up parties because of alcohol, but not RAs doing it,” said one RA. “We dealt with alcohol differently [during the school year], and that’s what I signed up for. And every RA I’ve talked to is uncomfortable with the new policy.”

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