Residential Fellows (RFs) are expected to meet with Stanford’s administration on Tuesday to discuss the University’s alcohol policy. This will be the second meeting held between the RFs and the administration on this issue. The first meeting, on March 8, saw President John Hennessy and Provost John Etchemendy Ph.D. ’82 announce their intention to begin a new conversation about alcohol, particularly regarding a potential ban on hard alcohol.
Hennessy and Etchemendy explained this decision in an email to students.
“At Stanford, we have worked together – students, staff, and faculty – in many ways in recent years to build a healthier campus culture around alcohol.”
This email continued, explaining the concern over growing alcohol-related issues.
“Despite the progress that has been made, we believe a serious issue still confronts this campus… We need new solutions.”
According to Winston Chen ’17, the current PHE at Otero, the RFs were taken aback by the proposed ban on hard alcohol. Chen noted that the RFs seemed particularly concerned about how a ban would affect next year’s recently hired staff.
“I think a lot of the RFs feel that it is unfair for the staff members that they hired really recently,” Chen said.
“A lot of the work that has to be done in order to maintain [a hard alcohol ban] is not what a lot of the staff signed up for,” he added.
Chen emphasized that the RFs were also initially concerned about how a hard alcohol ban could negatively affect the dorm environment.
“I think a lot of the longer tenured RFs… have had a good sense that if this [alcohol ban] were to be enforced, drinking would be driven underground, and it would make it a lot tougher to maintain a culture of trust and openness, not just with drinking but dorm-wide,” said Chen.
Since the alcohol ban was proposed, residential communities have begun to discuss the culture around alcohol. Students have reacted to the proposed ban and proposed alternative solutions, in part through a successful ASSU referendum. Each residential community has structured the conversation around the proposed alcohol ban differently.
However, at some dorms, this conversation is not new.
Chris Koenig ’19, a current resident at Trancos, said that the alcohol discussion started early last quarter in his dorm.
“At the beginning of Winter Quarter, [our RFs] just cautioned us about alcohol because apparently there had been a lot of transports in the Fall Quarter at Trancos,” Koenig said.
Koenig explained at the time, though, there were no specifics.
“They just brought up a general warning again after the email was sent out and had a session at house meeting to talk about that,” he added.
However, formal conversations in other dorms about alcohol are just beginning.
In Soto, these conversations included structured dorm meetings focused on understanding the culture around alcohol use. Residents are encouraged to suggest constructive solutions.
“We had big posters that we put on the walls with different solutions that we had brainstormed in the last session, and we came up with some ideas about how we could implement them,” said Claudia Heymach ’19, a current resident at Soto.
At Otero, the staff and RFs have tried not only to begin a dialogue but also to gather comprehensive data on the residents’ reactions.
“We have had two lunches, where it was an open forum led by one or two staff members and one of the RFs, where people could voice their opinions. Then, we have also sent out a survey to gather some quantitative and qualitative data. Then, we also had a more intimate hall meeting as a wrap up to see if anyone had any lingering thoughts,” said Chen.
Reactions and Proposed Alternative Solutions
Koenig, Heymach and Chen observed that the majority of residents in their dorms seemed to oppose a hard alcohol ban.
“I think everyone was against it,” Koenig said. “The main sentiment was that if they were to restrict the drinking policy, it would probably just make things worse because then people would find ways to drink anyways, and ways that are unsafe.”
This dissatisfaction with the proposed hard alcohol ban has led dorms to propose alternative policies.
“We talked as a dorm about some people’s dissatisfaction with the idea of the hard alcohol ban,” said Heymach. “So, I think that [our RFs] are really open to looking for different solutions to propose to the administration. One of [these ideas] was alcohol education… throughout the year instead of just something before we start college.”
Continued alcohol education for freshmen was also proposed at Otero, along with other policies to address alcohol abuse across campus.
“In terms of high risk drinking on the row, increasing faculty engagement and support or placing RFs in some of the houses on the row, which could be a pretty drastic change,” said Chen.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the RFs are expected to discuss possible alcohol policy changes in light of the data that has been collected across residential communities over the past month. RFs are also expected to consider student reactions to the proposed alcohol ban.
While the administration and the RFs have emphasized the importance of student involvement in this conversation, it remains unclear whether the general dissent among students will affect the actual policy.
Chen expresses concern that student voices will not be heard.
“Everything is up in the air,” he said. “I think it would be interesting to see the administration ask for this [involvement] from students and the residential community and then do the ban anyways, regardless of all of this opposition.”
“I think that there is this kind of tension or maybe lack of optimism when it comes to how these voices and these narratives will be carried out,” Chen added.