Helping families talk about alcohol with their Stanford students

Ralph Castro
Ralph Castro

A new online publication created by the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education is designed to help parents and guardians talk to their student about alcohol use. Research shows such conversations can help, says Ralph Castro, associate dean of students and director of the office.

By Kate Chesley

Why have you created this online guide for parents/guardians about talking to college students about alcohol?

Research show that parents and guardians can have a profound influence on their student’s substance use. We created this guide to better prepare parents and guardians to have these conversations and inform themselves on the topic.

How are you making it available?

The guide was launched this summer and was included in a parent/guardian alcohol and drug letter that went to all families of first-year students. It is both a website and a downloadable pdf.

What generalizations can you make about drinking at Stanford in comparison to other colleges and universities?

Stanford takes a multifaceted approach to deal with a multifaceted public health issue. We provide education and programs to maximize safety, promote good judgment and encourage prosocial behavior. We struggle with the same challenges that other schools deal with, and we use research-based strategies to inform our work.

What is the one best piece of advice you give to parents/guardians in this new guide about talking to their students about alcohol?

Don’t be afraid of the topic of alcohol and drugs. Have open and frank conversations and make sure you clearly articulate your values and expectations. They are listening!

What else is Stanford doing to diminish the risks associated with alcohol?

We have a plethora of programs and services. We offer safe rides, safe walks, snacks/water in high-traffic party areas on weekends, alcohol-free social events and peer-to-peer education. We produce a detailed report of our programs and work.

Stanford has become a JED Campus. What does that mean?

JED Campus is a comprehensive public health approach to supporting the emotional well-being and success of college and university students, and we are glad to join. It allows us an established public health framework to shape our work and vision for mental health and well-being at Stanford.

In January of 2019, the provost and vice provost for student affairs wrote to the campus community about engaging students in addressing high-risk alcohol consumption. What has happened subsequently?

Stanford has been engaged on many fronts to address substance use on campus. In February, an Alcohol Solutions Group was formed to review our policies, practices and protocols. We reshaped student staff training to include more education and skills-based learning and we added more residence deans for support and care. Finally, we are using donor funds to expand our alcohol and drug programs and services – Cardinal Nights and 5-SURE – to better service the campus community.

Do you have any advice for parents/guardians concerned about students’ use of alcohol?

We encourage you to have regular conversations with your student about their social lives on campus. Continue to express your expectations and values as your student progresses through their time here at Stanford. Your influence and partnership are critical for all of us to be successful in our efforts.