An open letter to Student Affairs: Craft better policy by releasing alcohol data to the campus community

Oct. 15, 2018, 1:00 a.m.

Students entering Resident Assistant (RA) training this year were in for a surprise. Dozens watched as interim ResEd Dean Koren Bakkegard gave the students a first look at the new protocol ResEd was introducing to better enforce its alcohol policy.

RAs would be charged with identifying “high-risk behaviors” and reporting them in a manner that would impose escalating consequences for repeating offenders. This was patently different from the previous protocol which merely instructed students to notify their RAs that they would be drinking in their rooms and keep their doors open to allow RAs to check in on residents.

In early September, RAs were curtly informed that this year, that wouldn’t fly. The school was eager to see fewer students drinking, and at the first sign of “high-risk behavior,” RAs were to make note of offending students and promptly dissuade them from doing so again.

The problem was that the “behavior” they were looking for was defined in the broadest possible terms. Anything from “drinking games” to “consuming shots” was considered “high-risk,” behaviors that engulf most forms of alcohol consumption on campus. RAs understood that should they attempt to enforce the policy this way, they would be reporting most of their residents on most weekends — a dynamic that would not bode well for residents or their RAs. Concerns floated that students might, instead, choose to drink with their doors closed, making it more difficult for RAs to intervene if something actually went wrong. And how could RAs be sure that their understanding of “high-risk” was the same as ResEd’s? What would the consequences be for an RA if they failed to report an incident that fell into this nebulous category?

It soon came out that no students were consulted during the drafting of the protocol. In response to ensuing student concerns, ResEd met with staff and revised the protocol to better suit the practical needs of staff and students. Even so, this quick, behind-closed-doors protocol change calls into question the impact of the University’s alcohol policies.

Specifically, on questions of why this new protocol was needed, whether the alcohol policy introduced in 2016 was effective and why they believe this protocol will change drinking behavior, ResEd has remained quiet to the community at large.

Many key facts and figures surrounding alcohol policy at Stanford remain totally opaque to students and to the Stanford community. Policies come and go, but when they do, they leave no paper trail for students to inspect. We have no idea how many alcohol transports have occurred or how many minor-in-possession citations have been handed out by Stanford’s Public Safety department. The only readily available information we have is the police blotter — and that information is rife with inaccuracy. Last spring, the police blotter displayed exactly zero transports for the entire quarter; anecdotally, any Stanford student could tell you that this isn’t true. As a result, the broader community is left devoid of metrics on which to evaluate the policies that are introduced as quickly as they are removed.

Since its rocky introduction, the new alcohol protocol is now trapped in an uncomfortable limbo. Though still technically in effect, it has been awkwardly walked back. That Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole urged a group of law students, led by Professors Paul Brest and Keith Humphreys, to devise a more enforceable protocol that would better withstand criticism more openly reveals a sharply increased demand for a functional framework.

The confusion has led to incongruous enforcement of the protocol, with most freshman dorms resorting to business-as-usual, following neither clear nor coordinated rules on alcohol consumption.

Asked about ResEd’s protocol change, Student Affairs Communications Director Pat Harris responded to The Daily in a statement: “Every year, the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education reviews the University’s policies and practices. As part of this review process, we examined the way in which we get students of concern connected with support and education. In the residences, we noticed that we could be doing a better job, so we developed a protocol to best facilitate earlier referral of drug and alcohol concerns to the RD and ultimately to OAPE. This was done to ensure consistency across houses.”

These protocols cannot be developed by OAPE alone. The level of drinking on campus is, and has long been, a major campus concern. As such, the community as a whole must be involved when deliberating on ways to deal with it.

We recommend that Student Affairs release monthly reports detailing alcohol transport rates, minor in possession charges on campus, public intoxication citations and other outcome metrics related to alcohol consumption.

ResEd’s motivation behind the new reporting protocol comes out of a genuine need for a more structured and consistent flow of information out of student residences, especially freshman dorms. However, the fact that such measures were needed in the first place highlights the degree to which ResEd is operating blindly when crafting policies that will seriously affect student life.

As it stands, it is impossible for students to understand, much less evaluate, the effectiveness of the alcohol policies and protocols currently in place, as we are devoid of the data that is supposed to drive them.

Moving forward, it would increase ResEd’s credibility to release information regarding to outcome metrics that would better illustrate the effectiveness of its policies. Perhaps most compellingly, this transparency would act in the best interest of student safety. We trust that administrators and students, united in this common goal, would produce the most effective and lasting protocol.


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Editorials represent the views of The Stanford Daily, an independent newspaper serving Stanford and the surrounding community. The Daily's Editorial Board consists of Managing Editor of Opinions Anna-Sofia Lesiv '20, Editor-in-Chief Courtney Douglas '20, Executive Editor Joshua Wagner '20, Elizabeth Lindqwister '21 and Terence Zhao '19. To contact the Editorial Board, submit an op-ed (limited to 700 words) at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor (limited to 500 words) at [email protected].

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