This week, The Daily’s Editorial Board congregated under the bright red umbrellas that appeared outside of Treehouse by the grace of The Social Project. The new lights, fun colored chairs, the beer on tap and spiked kombucha are all part of Stanford’s new outdoor bar. You didn’t read that wrong. The school that’s desperately trying to curb drinking has just opened its first outdoor venue where students can drink! Let us just say — the Editorial Board is unanimous in that this decision is brilliant.
America’s post-puritanical culture tends to demonize alcohol and as a result, its youth respond in turn – revering and even fetishizing it to an outsized degree. The results of these clashing attitudes are clearly visible on this campus, where binge drinking is the norm and casual alcohol culture is largely nonexistent. And in this vacuum, the university has seen the passage of a number of punitive measures, each more destructive to student life than the last.
In this most recent year, outrage erupted amongst students after it was announced that Resident Assistants (RAs) in freshmen dorms were being asked to report any and all high-risk behaviors to an unsettling degree. The new protocol included the mandatory reporting of activities such as “taking shots” and “drinking games” among those that would elicit escalating punishments and that could potentially even result inremoval from housing. Student privacy and trust were simultaneously shattered when memos containing sensitive information about residents’ drinking activities — intended to be kept confidential between RAs and Resident Fellows — were leaked to a dorm email list. These memos exposed conversations that included specific names and actions of students, reported in markedly explicit detail.
In the 2017-2018 academic year (the most recent year for which data is available) there were 51 incidents of alcohol-based hospitalization, the highest rate in 12 years. This came in spite of a ban on hard alcohol and the more recent reporting measures intended to stem campus alcohol usage. Even Susie Brubaker-Cole, Vice Provost of Student Affairs, had to admit the failure of these bureaucratic efforts, saying in an email to all students that the report “shows that despite numerous efforts to reduce the harmful impact of alcohol in our community, the problem has persisted.” Clearly, the current system isn’t working.
Improving Stanford students’ collective relationship with alcohol will not come about through hardline regulations that completely miss the heart of the problem. What this campus needs is a change in culture, not policy. Stanford needs to help foster spaces where students can explore drinking outside the hyper-charged confines of freshman dorms and fraternity houses — spaces that would encourage and externalize social drinking events such as wine nights, pints with professors and “kickbacks.”
It’s time for the University to acknowledge the positive sociological effect that normalizing alcohol, removing the taboo around it and promoting an atmosphere of positive drinking can have. Drinking at Stanford has only ever been excessive or expensive. Excessive, as restrictions on drinking at parties have led students to drink aggressively in private — and expensive, as the nearest bars to campus are in Palo Alto where the drinks are not affordable options for college students. With the opening of the outdoor bar, it seems like the University is moving away from its previous hardline stance in favor of creating a drinking climate that can be enjoyed by graduate students and upper-class undergraduates alike.
Beyond student-led social functions, the University has historically hosted social events that serve alcohol to students. The senior Dinner on the Quad, for example, serves drinks to graduating seniors. The Alumni Association also provides beer steins and champagne flutes as part of their Cheers to Senior Year and Senior Welcome programming. Professors and students regularly drink together at Bing Overseas Program seminars, and Junior Formal is often held at a winery where, presumably, alcohol is present.
This isn’t to say alcohol is necessary to facilitate an exciting event or social function, nor should we encourage drinking as the primary mechanism for getting to know your peers or professors. On the student level, Stanford has made efforts — mostly geared towards the freshmen and sophomores who, for the most part, cannot yet legally drink— to diversify the campus social scene through Cardinal Nights and Late Night events. But these efforts simply cannot account for, nor do they entirely appeal to, the broader population of students looking for more public social events that involve alcohol — even to the simple degree of sharing a glass of wine with friends. The establishment of the student bar is a first step toward a healthier campus drinking culture that revolves around experience and enjoyment rather than surveillance and distrust. Cheers to that.
Contact Vol. 255 Editorial Board at opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.