Impact of OAPE’s letter to parents about alcohol hard to gauge

For the first time, the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education (OAPE) sent a letter to parents of incoming freshmen on Aug. 7 to encourage conversation between students and their parents about college drinking. Freshmen have reported limited effects of the letter.

The letter, signed by Greg Boardman, vice provost for student affairs, Ralph Castro, director of OAPE and Sally Lannin ’78, co-chair of the new Stanford Parent Alcohol Advisory Group, discussed student access to alcohol, negative impacts of drinking and the importance of regular conversations between parents and students about alcohol.

“[The letter] is part of our multifaceted approach to address high-risk drinking at Stanford,” Castro said. “We see parents as important stakeholders in our work and we wanted to engage them in the conversation around alcohol.”

The effectiveness of the letter itself has been doubted by freshmen, many of whom did not sense any change in their parents’ behavior upon receiving the letter.

“Honestly, I wasn’t really aware of any formal attempt to have a conversation about [drinking],” Alex Barata ’16 said. “I think it’s something that some parents would bring up on their own, and others just might not bother.”

Even freshmen whose parents did have a formal talk about drinking in college after receiving the letter mentioned that the official conversation itself was not as effective as the conversations they had had in the past with their parents.

“I don’t think I’m making decisions based on what they’ve said to me recently,” said Elisabeth Dee ’16. “I think I’m making decisions based on what they’ve said to me over the course of my entire life.”

Less disputed however is the idea that parental involvement has a beneficial effect on the decisions of students regarding alcohol.

“Not everyone needs to hear the talk from their parents, but for some people it can certainly help,” Trancos Peer Health Educator (PHE) Erica Lieberman ’14 said. “I think that overall there are probably more people who benefit from the talk then those who don’t.”

However, according to Castro, the purpose behind the letter was not only to warn students of the dangers of alcohol but also to inform parents about Stanford’s alcohol-related resources.

“The main purpose [of the letter] was to let parents know that we are proactively engaging in constructive discussions and activities to prevent high-risk drinking,” Castro said. “We wanted to inform parents about our new initiatives.”

These initiatives have been bolstered by an OAPE survey that showed alcohol use at Stanford as being on par with the national average– just below in alcohol consumption and above in hard liquor use, pre-gaming and having alcohol as the center of campus social life.

OAPE and the Parent Advisory Group believe parental involvement earlier in the year can help alleviate the problems causing by irresponsible drinking behavior.

“Research shows that by having a frank, face-to-face conversation with your student, you can have a positive effect on your son or daughter’s approach to alcohol once they arrive,” the OAPE letter states.

“I think that a lot of the high-risk drinking occurs with residents who haven’t had experience with alcohol before college and just aren’t really aware of how dangerous it is to consume many drinks rapidly,” said freshman Resident Assistant (RA) Javier Guinard ’14. “Having a conversation with your parents can make freshmen a little bit more aware about the consequences that their behavior towards alcohol might have.”