In an effort to reduce the availability and accessibility of hard alcohol, Stanford University has updated its student alcohol policy to prohibit high-volume distilled liquor containers for all undergraduate and coterminal students living in undergraduate housing. It also prohibits hard alcohol at all categories of on-campus parties, with the exception of parties hosted by student organizations and residences whose membership is 100 percent graduate students. That exemption applies to alcohol in the form of mixed drinks. Straight shots of hard alcohol are never allowed at any party. Beer and wine are the only alcoholic beverages that can be present at all on-campus undergraduate student parties.

The policy update, which goes beyond state law requirements, prohibits containers 750 mL and larger of distilled liquor, spirits and hard alcohol (alcohol by volume 20 percent and above or 40 proof) in undergraduate student residences, including rooms and common spaces. The beverages that are allowed under this policy for individuals 21 and older must have been purchased from a licensed establishment and must be contained and stored in their original containers.

The policy, which is effective immediately, is an outgrowth of dialogue that has been taking place among students, faculty and staff since March, when President John Hennessy and Provost John Etchemendy wrote to students and called on the community to generate solutions that meaningfully change the campus culture around alcohol.

“We welcome ideas from students and other members of the campus community for new ways of tackling this pressing challenge,” the president and provost wrote. “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.”

Greg Boardman, vice provost for student affairs, sent a letter about the updated policy on Monday, Aug. 22, to all new and returning undergraduates.

Boardman wrote: “When considering a policy, one can look at it through multiple lenses. I challenge you not to focus on the policy as something to be worked around. Instead, I ask you to bring your best selves to this endeavor, to consider the real concerns raised by your fellow students, and those articulated here, and to be a part of solving this problem. We must create a campus community that allows for alcohol to be a part of the social lives of some of our students, but not to define the social and communal lives of all of our students.”

Stanford Report spoke with Ralph Castro, director of the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education (OAPE), about the rationale for the changes.

Why not just ban hard alcohol?

Ralph Castro

Ralph Castro (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Our focus is on the high risk of the rapid consumption of hard alcohol. Our intention is not a total prohibition of a substance, but rather a targeted approach that limits high-risk behavior and has the backing of empirical studies on restricting the availability of and access to alcohol. It also allows us the ability to provide uniformity in a policy that will impact all undergraduate students without banning a substance that is legal for a segment of the student population to use responsibly. Finally, we want to sustain our partnership with students so we can be successful in our efforts while still being able to foster community and build on our living/learning educational approach in the residences.

Why limit containers of hard alcohol?

Limiting the size of hard alcohol containers is a harm reduction strategy designed to reduce the amount of high-volume alcohol content that is available for consumption at a given time. We feel it is a sensible, creative solution that has roots in research-based solutions.

What’s the difference in hard alcohol container sizes?

Hard alcohol container sizes mL oz. Shots
(1.5 oz.)
Miniature 50 1.7 1.13
Half pint 200 6.8 4.53
Pint 375 12.7 8.46
Fifth 750 25.4 16.93
Liter 1,000 33.8 22.53
Half gallon 1,750 59.2 39.46

Why the cutoff at 750 mL and above?

Large volume containers 750 mL and above – the volume of a standard wine bottle – have the capacity to deliver many more shots of hard alcohol than smaller-volume containers. For example, a “fifth” (750 mL) has about 17 standard shots. The standard container below that is a “pint” (375 mL); that contains about 8.5 standard shots – half as many.

Why is the alcohol by volume cutoff at 20 percent?

The standard definition of distilled alcohol/spirits begins at 20 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) and above. The 20 percent ABV cutoff was selected to include all distilled alcohol/spirits in order to be consistent with established parameters for classification purposes.

Is there research to support a limitation on containers?

The research on limiting availability and access focuses on reducing alcohol outlet density and increasing alcohol taxes and costs. The approach of limiting container size accomplishes both of these empirically proven strategies.

Most alcohol retailers only sell large-volume containers – 750 mL and above. Only select retailers sell hard alcohol containers smaller in volume than 750 mL. Therefore, the outlet density of establishments that sell hard alcohol around campus will be greatly reduced. Also, the costs associated with purchasing smaller containers of hard alcohol are higher than the cost per volume of larger containers, which may serve as a deterrent.

What does this mean to students?

A student 21 years of age or older can possess, store and consume hard alcohol as long as it is in compliance with the container policy – original bottles and containers smaller than 750 mL.

What are the penalties for noncompliance?

Consistent with current practice, failure to comply with alcohol policies will be referred to residence deans and OAPE for administrative action. Continued or concerning behavior may result in removal from university housing or referral to the Office of Community Standards.

How will success be measured?

We will evaluate all aspects of alcohol use and its related consequences from both an individual and a community perspective. We are combining this policy shift with a commitment to enhance our educational approach, to try different methods of environmental management and to study the effects of our various efforts through a system of robust assessment. Should these combined efforts fail to engender sufficient change, we are committed to adjusting the policy further.

Are there other efforts designed to address at-risk drinking among students?

Over the years, OAPE has developed a number of programs that not only seek to limit high-risk alcohol consumption, but also offer alternatives to drinking. The Cheers OAPE app, developed at Stanford, helps individuals calculate their blood alcohol levels and receive educational feedback in real time. Another program, Cardinal Nights, offers creative, fun, alcohol-free social activities for students. We also employ comprehensive party planning guidelines and offer safe rides and bystander intervention services via our 5-SURE programs.