President and provost discuss student alcohol use, seek campus dialogue on new solutions

In a meeting with resident fellows Tuesday night and in an email to students Wednesday, Stanford President John Hennessy and Provost John Etchemendy discussed the continuing dangers of alcohol misuse among undergraduates and the urgency of identifying new solutions as a campus community. The text of their email to students follows below.

Dear Students:

Last night, the two of us met with the Resident Fellows from across the Stanford campus to begin renewing our community’s conversation about a persistent challenge: alcohol misuse.

Colleges and universities across the country continue to wrestle with alcohol and the high-risk behaviors that can result from its misuse. It is estimated that more than 1,800 college students die each year from alcohol-related incidents, nearly 700,000 experience alcohol-related physical assaults, and nearly 100,000 experience alcohol-related sexual violence, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Many universities have identified hard alcohol as playing a particularly dangerous role in their undergraduate communities, in the form of shots and pre-gaming.

At Stanford, we have worked together – students, staff, and faculty – in many ways in recent years to build a healthier campus culture around alcohol. We have created more substance-free social opportunities through the Cardinal Nights program. Educational efforts have expanded, spearheaded both by the university and by student groups. Fraternities and sororities have assumed greater accountability for organizational conduct. Campus alcohol policies (which make clear the illegal nature of alcohol consumption for those under 21) have been strengthened and provide extensive guidance in responsible party planning.

Despite the progress that has been made, we believe a serious issue still confronts this campus. Alcohol, and particularly hard alcohol, is implicated in a variety of problems that continue to be present in the Stanford community. These include alcohol poisoning, sexual assault and relationship violence, organizational conduct problems, and academic problems.

We need new solutions – solutions that reduce risk for students, that reduce the pressure on students to drink, and that meaningfully change our culture around alcohol.

We began our conversation last night with the Resident Fellows because Stanford has a strong, residentially based undergraduate community. The Resident Fellows and student staff work to create in each house a culture that reflects values shaped collectively by the community – learning, personal development, inclusion, mutual respect, and accountability. We wish to preserve the strength of our residential system while making real progress in reducing the harm that still comes to too many of our students.

Last night’s meeting started a structured conversation in the Residential Education community around these issues which we hope to continue during the spring quarter. In addition, we want broad student engagement and input.

We welcome ideas from students and other members of the campus community for new ways of tackling this pressing challenge. The importance and persistence of this issue have led the two of us to contemplate options that we have not in the past, including broad bans on hard alcohol in undergraduate residences. But we believe a serious campus conversation is what is called for at the moment.

Please feel free to email us with your ideas, and please engage your friends and housemates in this conversation as well. We welcome your best thinking as well as your personal recommitment to supporting the health, safety, and well-being of everyone in our campus community.


John L. Hennessy

John Etchemendy