Five years after Cal Poly freshman Carson Starkey died following a night of binge drinking, an alcohol poisoning awareness program started in his memory is being expanded to all 23 California State University campuses.
On Tuesday, Carson’s parents, Scott and Julia Starkey, gave a presentation to the CSU Board of Trustees about the Aware Awake Alive program they started at Cal Poly in 2011 to prevent further alcohol deaths on college campuses.
After the presentation, CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White announced that the program, which is already active on eight CSU campuses, will be expanded to the entire system. The nonprofit program equips students with the knowledge they need to recognize alcohol poisoning and respond to it when they see it.
“It was huge for us,” said Julia Starkey. “We just know that this is going to catapult our program and save lives, and that’s what’s important for us.”
In their presentation, the Starkeys described the emotional trauma of losing their son to binge drinking at a fraternity initiation event at Cal Poly. They were shocked to learn that fraternity members failed to get help for Carson out of fear of getting into trouble.
“It was a very touching thing to have the Starkeys come in and provide that personal insight into just how devastating alcohol poisoning is and to embody what suffering families go through when a young person is lost to it,” said Erik Fallis, spokesman for the CSU Chancellor’s Office.
The Starkeys determined that their program would need to use the peer-to-peer method to give students information about alcohol poisoning prevention that they could share among themselves. The motto of the program is “Drunk or dying? You make the call.”
“The message that alcohol can kill needed to come from them, not from us or other adults,” they told the CSU trustees. “We didn’t want to preach to students — we wanted to use a peer-to-peer method to educate them.”
Four members of the fraternity were convicted of hazing in connection with Carson Starkey’s death. The Starkeys also support Good Samaritan legislation that gives immunity to minors who call for help in alcohol emergencies.
Little data exists about how effective the program has been at Cal Poly because it is relatively new, said Matt Lazier, a Cal Poly spokesman. According to the University of Michigan’s Healthy Minds Study, which surveys 17 colleges and universities nationwide including Cal Poly, Cal Poly students intervene in binge drinking incidents at a rate of more than 43 percent while the national average is nearly 34 percent.
The CSU system does not have a timeline for when the Starkeys’ program will be fully implemented, but some campuses are already starting to roll it out, Fallis said.
“All of the campuses already have staff that is assigned to work on alcohol education and prevention, so it should be something that can be implemented relatively quickly,” he said.