No drinking, no smoking and no out-of-control partying – could this possibly be college housing? It could, but only if the college heeds the advice of the Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) and implements their proposal for substance-free housing.
Looking at this proposal in light of Williams’ history, it seems counter to the trends in campus housing. The college abolished fraternities in the ’60s with one of the primary goals being to integrate the campus into one coherent community. Since then, with the exception of the First-year Residential Seminar program, Williams College has refused to promote theme housing of any kind. The question that looms large with substance-free housing is whether or not it would add to the divisions that exist on an already fragmented campus.
Everyone at Williams must acknowledge that this is a small community and it already has its own divisions. It does not make very much sense for a college that wants to promote itself as a unified academic community to create situations which may add to such divisions.
Another aspect of this argument is that this example of theme housing sets a dangerous precedent in terms of what the college seeks to promote. At present, Williams College operates without any specific goals in terms of what kind of lifestyle it wants its students to live by. By offering substance-free housing, the College is expressing its consent and tacit approval for this specific lifestyle. If the College were to promote one type of lifestyle, how could they consistently deny other groups’ applications for their own housing situations?
Also, it seems to be in the best interest of the college to promote diverse residential situations. Students will probably learn more through exposure to new and different people in a regular residence hall as opposed to those they would meet in a theme house. As stated before, we already live in an isolated community and we should be wary of any attempts to isolate people further.
The final point we want to make, and we think administrators should be aware of, is that in effect substance-free housing already exists. Many students who pick into the Dodd satellite houses do so with the intention of living in a quieter place then the rest of the college. This goes to show that if Williams students want a certain kind of living environment, they will create it. This can be done in connection with the college’s larger role of fostering a sense of community.
It is also important that first-years should not be given the option to apply for substance-free housing if the plan is implemented. It is already hard enough for first-years to integrate themselves into the community and certainly such students should not be given the option of opting out of this process. It is a critical aspect of first-year life to be an active member of the class and to be directly involved with the first-year entry system. It would be extremely awkward for a first-year entry to be the only entry that is substance-free.
At Williams, we pride ourselves on the idea that all students are mature young adults, involved in a learning process about how they want to live. The College should continue to play its role, teaching students to explore for themselves how to live and not promote any one method. Establishing substance-free housing sets a dangerous precedent that the College has turned away from in the past and it would be wise to avoid in the future.