Five months after a former student was convicted for sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman, Stanford University banned hard liquor in undergraduate on-campus parties, a policy the school said was enacted to root out the negative consequences of high-risk drinking at college.
President John L. Hennessy and Provost John Etchemendy announced the new student alcohol policy in a letter sent Monday to all new and returning undergraduates. In a letter to undergraduates, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Greg Boardman reminded the students that "we are all partners in a shared Stanford experience." It is "our obligation to one another," he wrote, to "embody respect, accountability, and a sense of community." He urged students not to "work around" the new rules, but to be help solve a national problem.
Beer and wine are the only alcoholic beverages that can be present at all on-campus undergraduate student parties, the new policy says.
The decision to enact the stricter rules comes after the Brock Turner sex assault case, where a 22-year-old woman who was intoxicated said she was assaulted and raped by the former university swimmer in January 2015. Turner also had been drinking, and as part of his sentence must undergo mandatory drug and alcohol counseling.
Campus spokeswoman Lisa Lapin told the Chronicle that the policy was not directly related to the Turner case, but came out of general concern and is part of the school’s efforts to examine educational efforts and policies around alcohol use.
Still, the policy is an outgrowth of dialogue that has been taking place among students, faculty and staff since March — the month Turner was sentenced to six months in jail after being convicted of three felony counts of sexual assault. The relatively light sentence -- he could have faced up to 14 years in prison -- received national attention of what critics say is universities' blind eye toward "rape culture."
Stanford University law professor Michele Dauber, however, believes that banning hard liquor could actually increase the number of sexual assaults on campus.
"It may have the unintended consequence of driving that behavior indoors with closed doors, rather than at public parties so students may actually have an increased risk of sexual assault," she said.
Dauber also said Stanford’s ban supports the idea that alcohol is to blame for sexual assaults. According to court records, Turner blamed his actions on binge drinking and a party culture on campus.
"We need to understand alcohol helps victims become more helpless, but it doesn't turn normal people into offenders," Dauber said. "Alcohol did not make Brock Turner commit his crime."
The university cited social anxiety in its reasoning for many students who start to drink and feel alienated, which the university said is "unacceptable."
"High-risk drinking is not a problem unique to Stanford," the university said, "but we believe that the strategies we pursue to address the negative consequences of this behavior must be rooted in our particular campus culture and our respect for one another."
But some students said they don't think the ban will make a difference. Instead, Sam Davis fears that it might encourage students to imbibe hard liquor "more secretively."
"I don't think it's hard alcohol specifically," he added. "It's intertwined with the college culture we have now."
Other universities in California have various alcohol policies: At the University of California at Berkeley, students over 21 can have alcohol but not in common areas like dorms or study areas, and minors cannot be in the presence of alcohol. At San Jose State University, minors can be arrested for having alcohol and students can't keep empty bottles or cans as decorations. At Santa Clara University, dorms are subject to inspection.
NBC Bay Area's Sara Halvorson contributed to this report.