Ten years ago, on Dec. 2, 2008, Carson Starkey passed away due to acute alcohol poisoning during a Cal Poly fraternity hazing incident.
To observe the 10-year anniversary of Starkey’s death and to encourage bystanders to take action in potentially life-altering situations, WITH US – The National Network for Peer Accountability, a Cal Poly-based bystander intervention research center — launched Upstander Week from Monday, Nov. 26 to Saturday, Dec. 1.
WITH US is a program that spurred off of Aware Awake Alive – a program created by Starkey’s parents shortly after his death about the signs of alcohol poisoning.
Upstander Week, a predominantly social media-oriented campaign, consisted of seven daily challenges to help raise awareness about the power of intervention in situations of drug and alcohol abuse, sexual violence, racism and bullying.
“Social media is an incredibly powerful tool to start dialogue about these topics that are often not discussed,” WITH US program coordinator Michael Eberhard said. “This campaign targets college students, but this conversation is relevant to anyone.”
Nationwide participants in Upstander Week took the Upstander Pledge, shared their own bystander stories, donated to the campaign and posted facts via social media, raising awareness about hazing, alcohol poisoning and “upstander” techniques.
“Upstander Week is about giving students the courage to step up in dangerous situations to prevent harm. It’s not uncommon to see or hear about situations where someone didn’t speak up or step in to prevent the loss of life or serious harm. This campaign seeks to remove those barriers and encourage students to always do the right thing,” Keith Humphrey, executive director of WITH US and vice president for student affairs, said in a university news release.
Beyond Upstander Week, Cal Poly’s WITH US team has integrated Starkey’s story into Week of Welcome to further spread awareness on the movement for freshmen who may have no connection to Carson at all.
University departments and San Luis Obispo County Behavioral Health have also shared the campaign on social media.
“One thing I admire about this university is that Cal Poly didn’t run from this tragedy. They embraced it and continue to support Aware Awake Alive and the Starkey family, from the moment Carson passed,” Eberhard said.
Cal Poly involvement
The WITH US student team collaborated with 12 greek organizations on campus to plan and promote Upstander Week’s mission through various on- and off-campus fundraisers and tabling events.
According to Eberhard, a number of greek organizations have sold Carson-inspired SLODOCO donuts and coffee throughout Upstander Week.
On Nov. 26, WITH US gathered community members to paint the Poly “P” blue, the official color of Aware Awake Alive and WITH US.
Greek fraternities and sororities will also participate in Sober Saturday on Dec. 1, the day Starkey was peer-pressured to consume fatal amounts of alcohol 10 years ago.
“Since drinking is such a huge part of college and greek culture, [Sober Saturday] was a conscious decision to not drink alcohol to remember Carson,” Eberhard said.
According to Eberhard, Alpha Gamma Rho and the Interfraternity Council (IFC) are hosting an IFC Benefit BBQ Dec. 6 from 2 to 6 p.m. at 132 California Blvd. Pre-sale tickets, which cost $6 per person, can be purchased through Venmo at @CPFSL. On-site tickets cost $8. All funds will go toward research, program development and student internship funding for WITH US.