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Residential Education updates guidelines for addressing “high-risk behavior” surrounding alcohol and drug use

Student staff members required to discuss prevalence of “high-risk behaviors” in weekly meetings

ARNAV MARIWALA / The Stanford Daily

Residential Education (ResEd) will now more formally define what constitutes “high-risk behavior” under its substance use policies. Despite sharing the “high-risk” label, the behaviors range in severity, from beer pong and smoking marijuana to taking shots and blacking out.

Student Resident Assistants (RAs) are expected to hold weekly discussions as a staff about “high-risk behavior” in their respective dorms based off a set of questions provided by ResEd, according to an email sent to all RAs on Sept. 20 by Interim ResEd Dean Koren Bakkegard.

The Residence Dean (RD) assigned to the residence will follow-up with either the student staff or the faculty in-residence, or Residence Fellows (RFs) about the needs and concerns of the residential community. From there, the RD could connect students who are deemed as repeatedly conducting high-risk behaviors to the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education (OAPE). Though RAs are held accountable for reporting incidents of “high-risk behavior,” they are not involved in making decisions about the resident(s) in question.

The updated guidelines follow backlash from RAs during staff training after ResEd presented an initial plan for reducing high risk behavior. Previously, ResEd informed RAs that resident staff in all campus housing, had to submit anonymous weekly incident reports of “high-risk behaviors.” Residence staff would also refer students whose behavior could inflict harm upon themselves or others to RDs.

ResEd conducted a series of three workshops with approximately 20 student staff members and up to nine ResEd and OAPE leaders to redevelop the guidelines, according to Bakkegard. The definition of “high-risk behaviors” is still being shaped.

“As you know, my goal for alcohol training this year was to provide a set of expectations to equip staff to respond to high risk drinking and a process for connecting students in need of additional education and support to professional staff in OAPE,” Bakkegard wrote.

She added that ResEd will continue to work with student staff to develop appropriate responses and guidelines for reducing high-risk behavior. There will be follow-up meetings between Bakkegard and staff in November and at the end of the quarter.

Initial guidelines

According to a memo distributed to incoming student residential leaders at staff training in early September, one staff member from each residence would have been required to submit a Weekly Staff Report through an online survey. The survey was intended to provide “information about environmental and behavioral risk factors addressed by staff in that week and provide information about students who need additional follow up,” and asked staffers to report the number of events where listed “high-risk behaviors” necessitated a staff member’s interference.

The survey also asked staff to disclose other “reportable issues,” such as sexual misconduct. Since the survey does not collect names, ResEd could use the information it collects against individual students.

Despite the shift in protocol, the University maintained that this is not a policy change.

“While there are no changes to the alcohol policy, we are in the process of developing clearer guidelines for undergraduate students and staff about the behaviors that constitute high-risk drinking,” wrote University spokesperson E.J. Miranda in a Sept. 7 email to The Daily. “It’s important that student staff across campus apply the same standards to assess and intervene in high-risk situations.”

“Because it is no small challenge to design a protocol that can be applied consistently across more than 80 houses, some compromise is inevitable, but we want to conclude with a protocol that student staff broadly support,” Bakkegard wrote on Sept. 6.

Student pushback

After an initial alcohol training session, some incoming staffers said they were not clear on the expectations for reporting and addressing concerning behavior, according to Bakkegard’s initial email on. Bakkegard sent out a form to garner further student feedback.

“We were told to just follow our intuition, which is great,” wrote one student,who will be staffing in Lagunita. “But, the concern comes once we get back to the specific policy because we are then told to adhere to reporting things as simple as beer pong, which goes against our intuition.”

Bakkegard’s email also apologized for the “lack of clarity and input” at the training session.

The instructional changes follow a recent shift in ResEd administration. Former ResEd Dean Deborah Golder departed from her position, as Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole said she would be “taking Residential Education in some different directions.”   

In prior years, RAs have practiced an “open-door policy,” under which residents could drink so long as they informed an RA beforehand and kept their door open. Multiple incoming RAs voiced concern at the initial Q&A session that increased reporting to the University will limit trust between residents and student staff, making it less likely that residents will approach house leaders when more serious safety concerns arise.

But some staff members said the shift wasn’t as dramatic as they appeared. In previous years, staff held weekly meetings with RFs in which they discussed the same types of incidents that staff will now be required to disclose in the weekly reports.

“It may intuitively seem overbearing that the new policy suggests students write down and ‘report’ these incidents to their RFs, but in dorms this already happens on a more informal basis,” wrote one upper-class house staff member in a statement to The Daily.

The same staff member, who has staffed a campus residence before this year, said that during weekly meetings, staff and RFs would discuss who hosted weekend parties and whether any incidents arose.

Another memo, circulated this year to inform incoming staff members of “High-Risk Alcohol and Drug Protocol,” codified University involvement. An included flowchart shows that upon “first concern” for a resident, staff members will discuss the incident with that resident before holding a separate discussion with RFs. According to the flowchart, RDs do not get involved until the “second concern.”

“Because [ResEd chose] to exclude us from decisions about our residents, we can’t feel comfortable giving [ResEd] information because we don’t know what [ResEd] is going to do with it and we don’t have any control over it,” the Lagunita staffer wrote. “If we as staff can have more power in decision making, then maybe we’d be more open to communicating things to RDs.”

These guidelines and protocol are expected to be shared with all students during the first week of the academic year, according to Bakkegard.

ResEd affirmed that it will keep student feedback in mind moving forward and intends to collaborate with students on future wellness initiatives.

“The goal is to work with students to create a plan that will reduce and prevent the harmful effects of alcohol,” Miranda wrote.

This article was updated on Sept. 20 to reflect ResEd’s new decisions regarding alcohol use guidelines.

Holden Foreman contributed to this report.

Contact Gillian Brassil at gbrassil ‘at’ stanford.edu and Julia Ingram at jmingram ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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