Student Affairs adds new Office of Alcohol Policy and Education

Stanford recently opened a new Office of Alcohol Policy and Education under the direction of Ralph Castro, associate dean of student affairs. Joining Castro are Jarreau Bowen, assistant director and education and outreach coordinator, and Angelina Cardona, assistant director and community engagement coordinator. Castro answers questions about the mission of the new office, located in Rogers House, and about a new student alcohol policy.

L.A. Cicero Ralph Castro portrait

Ralph Castro

What are your hopes for the new Office of Alcohol Policy and Education?

 The goals for the office include enhancing alcohol educational outreach efforts across campus; providing clarity and consistency in the application of the student alcohol policy; creating ongoing social outlets for students that deemphasize alcohol; and shifting campus culture away from hard-liquor consumption. My hopes are that, over time, we can shift campus culture in a positive direction that actively discourages high-risk and dangerous drinking.


How do our efforts to curb risky drinking compare to those of our peers?

 All of our peers are dealing with the same issues. We now mirror our peers in staffing and outreach efforts with the creation of the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education. We consistently talk to our peers to share information and ideas on how we can offer the best strategies given our similar student demographics.


In the past, research showed that Stanford students didn't drink as much as their peers at other colleges and universities. Is that still the case?

 We are catching up to national norms for quantity and frequency of drinking. We still attract students who were not regular drinkers in high school. We are currently collecting data to get a better handle on the statistics.


National research shows that 40 percent of college students binge drink. Is that the case with Stanford students as well?

 A few years ago, we were below national averages for binge drinking, but that difference has faded over time. We now are close to national averages for binge drinking at Stanford.


The university recently established a new alcohol policy. How does it differ from the previous policy?

 The policy is student focused and highlights high-risk drinking as an area of concern. The previous policy was very administrative and was written for the entire campus – faculty, staff and students. We now have a policy that is solely focused on students.


What kind of reaction have you gotten from students about the new policy?

 People appreciate that we are being more direct in our approach to alcohol at Stanford. It is still relatively new to the campus, so we will be getting a better feel for it as we progress in our efforts.


The provost took the unusual step of directly talking to parents about alcohol during New Student Orientation. What difference can parents make?

 Parent can be partners with us to set positive and constructive norms around alcohol. This generation of students looks to their parents for guidance and respects their views. Research shows that parents can make a difference in reducing high-risk drinking by engaging in honest and frank conversations about alcohol with their sons and daughters.


Last year, every alcohol-related emergency room trip by Stanford students came as a result of hard-liquor consumption. Many also were the result of "pre-partying." Are there strategies that can help Stanford curb the abuse of hard alcohol?

 We are targeting all of our alcohol education on discouraging hard-liquor consumption. We are working hard to tell students that hard-liquor consumption is a high-risk activity that can lead to negative consequences. We are working with dorm staffs to prevent high-risk drinking situations through setting positive norms and engaging students in conversations about alcohol in the moment.


Stanford recently joined the Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking, which is a consortium of some 14 colleges and universities under the auspices of the National College Health Improvement Project. What results are we seeing from that research effort?

 There are now 32 schools involved and we are sharing information on promising practices on our campuses. The National College Health Improvement Project model is based on starting small and testing and retesting efforts to enhance the strategy before going global with it.


All Stanford students complain about having to take AlcoholEdu [an online alcohol education program] before enrolling in the university. But it appears to be working. Are there other signs that give you optimism that better education can curb risky drinking?

 We believe that education is our best tool to confront high-risk drinking at Stanford. AlcoholEdu is one part of the total education package. Many students are attending our newly created Cardinal Nights programming that offers social outlets that de-emphasize alcohol on Friday and Saturday nights. That is very encouraging to see students attend and come back.