Alcohol policy: A new approach

Provost Persis Drell and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole recently wrote to undergraduates outlining new alcohol policy approaches. Following is their letter.

Dear students,

One year ago, we wrote to all undergraduates to express our concerns about high-risk alcohol consumption on our campus. Our frosh and transfer students might recall the provost speaking on the same topic at New Student Orientation shortly after their arrival on campus this fall.

Susie Brubaker-Cole is Stanford’s vice provost for student affairs.

While high-risk drinking is a long-standing issue on college campuses, the scope of the most serious consequences is perhaps less familiar. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 1,800 college students die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes. Fortunately, this has occurred rarely at Stanford, where we are unaware of any alcohol-related undergraduate deaths in the past two decades.

Perhaps this suggests our protective factors are strong. Yet as the two individuals at Stanford who are most directly responsible for your development and well-being, we remain deeply concerned. Survey and other data suggest that a substantial percentage of our undergraduates continue to consume alcohol at dangerously high rates. We are struck by the prevalence of binge drinking, the norms it creates, and the consequences. Students are regularly transported to the emergency department to be treated for alcohol poisoning. Fall quarter, an alarming number of students were found passed out alone outdoors after a night out.

Persis Drell
Provost Persis Drell

We have been working to better understand the latest research on the acute and long-term consequences of high-intensity drinking among adolescents and young adults. There is, for example, a growing body of evidence to suggest that binge drinking in particular can cause persistent brain injury at the exact time in life when there is the absolute most to gain (or lose) in terms of education and growth. We cannot turn away from this, given we are here to provide the very best environment for your education.

With this in mind, we are preparing to re-engage campus in a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to lessen high-risk drinking. We know that no single initiative or policy will address the myriad factors to consider. Some of the work underway now includes the following:

  • Collaborating with the Stanford Law School Policy Lab on Alcohol Use Among Stanford Undergraduates, which is analyzing and benchmarking relevant Stanford data and policies. Both undergraduate and law students are participating in this effort, moderated by former law school Dean Paul Brest and School of Medicine Professor Keith Humphreys. We expect to hear the outcomes of their work, including recommendations, in winter quarter.
  • Expanding Cardinal Nights and 5-SURE thanks to a generous one-time gift from a donor. Both have been immensely popular. In 2017-18, total attendance at Cardinal Night events topped 22,000 and approximately 10,500 passengers used 5-SURE.
  • Becoming a JED Campus, which will help us strengthen a number of campus-wide factors that together support student mental health and well-being.
  • Compiling data on Stanford student alcohol consumption, with plans to share a full report with the campus community this quarter so that we can work collectively to understand and address the problem of high-risk drinking on campus.
  • Increasing our emphasis on training, support and resources for all residential student staff regarding responding to and intervening when high-risk drinking occurs in campus residences. We know it is critical that student staff feel supported as they seek to help residents connect with the resources and education they need to be safe.

There are two more items in particular where we are seeking student engagement:

  • Recently, students have built a strong case for more and different social options on campus, including additional space designed for student events. We would like to pull together a group of students to begin to help us think about how we can make such improvements.
  • While we plan these medium to longer-term measures, we would like to act immediately in winter quarter to launch an Alcohol Solutions Group comprising students, faculty and staff. In collaboration with the law school practicum described above, the group will consider steps we should take in light of what we are learning about high-risk drinking here, safety risks such as blackouts and injuries, and lasting impacts on brain development. More information on this initiative, including opportunities for student input, are forthcoming.

In closing, we would like to thank all of you for your careful consideration of this very complex topic. We look forward to hearing from and working with you to make meaningful progress toward a healthier, safer and more socially vibrant campus.


Persis Drell, Provost
Susie Brubaker-Cole, Vice Provost for Student Affairs