Office of Alcohol Policy and Education changes website in response to victim-blaming accusations

Aug. 24, 2016, 10:51 p.m.

After significant student and media criticism, the University issued several statements clarifying that the hard alcohol limits announced Monday were not intended as a response to sexual assault problems on campus.

However, after an initial change on Monday night, the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education fully replaced the page “Female Bodies and Alcohol” with one called “Alcohol Metabolism” and an apologetic disclaimer on Wednesday evening. In light of the recent change, many students drew negative connections between the “Female Bodies” page and the heavily publicized Brock Turner case.


University argues alcohol policy not intended as sexual assault response

According to Ralph Castro, director of the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education (OAPE), the hard liquor limits stem from previous actions and not the recent focus on sexual assault issues on campus.

“This has been part of a cascade effect started in 2011 with the creation of the OAPE,” Castro said. “That’s been from the original alcohol policy to launching Cardinal Nights, 5-SURE and education in freshman dorms.”

However, Castro also acknowledged that OAPE thinks the liquor limits may affect campus culture, not just preventing alcohol-induced vomiting.

“All campus student issues are ecological, where things impact everything else,” he said.

Many students have been skeptical of these claims, however.

“Even if the University refrains from explicitly stating anything regarding sexual assault…it is unrealistic to think that in the wake of the high level publicity from Brock Turner’s case and Turner’s comments and efforts regarding alcohol consumption and promiscuity that such lines will not be drawn by the student body,” said Maya Burke ’18.

The comments and efforts referred to by Burke are well documented, including Turner’s deposition blaming his actions on Stanford’s “party culture.” Before his sentencing, Turner also presented at schools on the dangers of alcohol.

Matthew Baiza ’18, co-founder of Stanford Association of Students for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP), also found it likely that Stanford at least accounted for the idea that the hard liquor prohibitions would curb sexual assault, although he believes that the University did initially just intend for the limits to curb the number of alcohol-induced medical transports.

“Perception is everything,” Baiza said. “For Stanford’s first big announcement to be a change in alcohol policy after the attention on the Brock Turner case was an ill-advised move… However, I am glad that it has people talking now on the issue of victim blaming and how alcohol can play a role in that. These are the types of conversations we need to have.”

OAPE material changes

Burke and Baiza both suggested that much of the conversation was prompted by the now-removed “Female Bodies and Alcohol” page. The page garnered attention after the announcement of the new alcohol policy, though it had been on the website previously. Student criticism focused on whether the article victim-blamed by focusing exclusively on female’s choices, as well as the binary nature of the language.

After initial attention, the page appeared to be removed on Monday, but later reappeared on a less-direct part of the OAPE’s website. According to Castro, the removal and new placement of the page was merely a part of a greater web overhaul.

“The page was created after the creation of an alcohol and women task force that was put together in the 2012-2013 school year,” Castro told The Daily on Tuesday. “Most of the material is taken from Cornell’s Smart Women Campaign, and we didn’t mean it as some be-all, end-all piece…I will agree that some of this needs updating, and it’s something we’ll consider in our web review.”

The reposted page on Monday, however, appeared to have edits as pointed out by media. Of particular note, the section on “Sexual Intent and Aggression” had been removed.

As of Monday, the page argued that women get drunker faster than men with the same amount of alcohol and that this puts women at greater risk for harm, “including hangovers, nausea and vomiting, memory loss and blackouts, and other regretted behavior.” Further, the page maintained an instruction for women to “make a decision about sex that night before you go out.”

Baiza said he was upset about the “cherry-picking” of scientific evidence about female anatomy to make the claim that females shouldn’t drink or else will be sexually assaulted.

“If Stanford is to address alcohol use and the differences between genders, they should have at least had a section on male use, too,” Baiza said.

In the Tuesday conversation, Castro added that the intention was not to victim-blame, and that OAPE considers themselves to be strong allies of the Title IX and Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse (SARA) offices on campus.

The page was taken down entirely on Wednesday evening and replaced with the article on alcohol metabolism, citing research from National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). According to Castro, the alcohol policy change was inspired by NIAAA research.

At the top of the new page reads the following disclaimer:

We would like to apologize for an outdated and insensitive article on women and alcohol that was here.  The content of the article did not reflect the values of our office.  We are sorry for the harm that the article may have caused people who read it.”

The new page describes the chemical processes that alcohol undergoes in the body, but does not devote attention to how this may or may not differ by biological sex.

Contact Ada Statler-Throckmorton at adastat ‘at’

Ada Statler '18 is an earth systems major hailing from Kansas City (on the Kansas side, not Missouri). She's most passionate about environmental journalism, but cares about all things campus-related.

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