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September 20, 2004

New alcohol guide issued to freshmen

By Ray Delgado

Hitting the bottle is a rite of passage for most college students, but Stanford officials too often have found that some students just weren’t as informed as they could have been about the health, safety and disciplinary consequences of drinking.

A new handbook given to freshmen during orientation last week aims to change that.

Written by and for students, the What’s Your Policy? guide covers almost every question a student could have about drinking: its health and safety impacts, how to take care of a friend with a problem and how drinking fits in with the overall campus community. The guide also clearly spells out the university’s policies on alcohol use (including administrative actions) and outlines criminal liabilities and California law in hypothetical situations involving students that are easy to understand.

The book was two years in the making after the Alcohol Advisory Board commissioned two students who recently graduated to help explain the risks of over-drinking to students in a way they could relate to. Stanford is believed to be the first major university to create a comprehensive guide about the impacts of alcohol consumption coupled with the university’s alcohol-related policies, and other universities have expressed interest in duplicating the guide, said Carole Pertofsky, director of health promotion services and chair of the advisory board.

“We wanted to demystify what goes on around alcohol,” Pertofsky said. “It came about as an organic discussion among students about how misinformed the student public is when it comes to alcohol. As a university, we do a tremendous amount to limit the availability of alcohol. But really, most students make their own choices about it.”

Although many students avoid alcohol altogether or drink moderately, alcohol abuse remains a pervasive problem on most university campuses. Statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism showed that about 25 percent of college students reported academic consequences of their drinking, including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall. More than 30 percent of college students met criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol abuse and 6 percent for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence, and many reported instances of sexual abuse or unsafe sex when alcohol was involved.

University officials have always been careful to incorporate a “dangers of drinking” message in the annual freshman orientation, specifically with a student-performance piece called The Real World that acts out scenarios of over-drinking and its potential consequences. The piece also deals with other issues, including sexual assault, relationship problems, sexuality and eating disorders.

After the performance, students meet in groups with their resident assistants for more intense discussions about drinking and the university’s policies regarding alcohol use. In those sessions, students are encouraged to walk around wearing different sets of “beer goggles,” which are specifically designed to simulate various levels of intoxication.

But despite the outreach efforts and the availability of trained staff who are available to discuss alcohol issues, there appeared to be some confusion around the university’s alcohol policies for many students, Pertofsky said.

The guide should help clear up that confusion, she added, by providing a written document to students that serves as a reference guide that they can go to when they have questions. The guide is also going to be made available to other students at Vaden Health Center, and it likely will be placed online within a year, Pertofsky said.

In the meantime, health administrators are enlisting resident assistants and peer health educators to help get the word out about the guide and encourage students to read it. Senior Lynsie Ishimaru, a college assistant for Freshman/Sophomore College, said she thought the guide was a great reference manual for freshmen.

“I think it’s really fantastic because all the information is right there,” Ishimaru said. “The format looks really accessible. They don’t have drawn-out, boring discussions of things.”

Overall, students enjoy many freedoms when it comes to alcohol policy enforcement at the university. University officials trust students to make smart decisions about alcohol and to look out for their friends, said Ralph Castro, an alcohol and drug educator from Vaden Health Center who led the training session for resident assistants.

“Prevention is the key,” Castro told the resident assistants. “We have a collective responsibility to take care of each other within the Stanford community. A high-profile incident will affect the entire community.”



Ray Delgado, News Service: (650) 724-5708,


Ralph Castro, alcohol and drug educator: (650) 723-3429,


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