CUL proposes idea of substance free dorm

The Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) will solicit student input as to whether or not the College should make substance-free housing available to students.

Members of the CUL have been discussing the possibility of such housing for the past few months. In substance-free houses, which have appeared on other college campuses in recent years, no tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drug use is allowed in the living or common areas by the residents of the house or their guests.

Professor of Religion William Darrow, the chair of CUL, explained the premise behind the substance-free dorm.

“[The restrictions] are not meant to prohibit behavior, it is just a question of presence in the housing and common areas,” he said.

Although the CUL has not worked out all of the details of how a substance-free dorm would operate, Darrow said some sort of enforcement procedure would need to be developed, such as the signing of a pledge upon entering the house and expulsion from it if the pledge is broken. On October 23 and 24, the CUL will distribute student questionnaires to SU boxes asking students for their responses to the idea, and whether or not they would be interested in living in a substance- free dorm. Students will also be asked to suggest dorms they think would be appropriate places to house the substance-free dorm.

Darrow said the CUL has only considered the option for upperclassmen. He added that members of the committee fear that if they separate one group of first-years, that group would be labeled and would have trouble fitting in with the rest of the class.

“It’s regrettable, but a reality, that there’s some sort of stigmatism that freshmen get caught with [by living in a substance-free dorm] that the committee doesn’t want them to get caught by,” he said.

Darrow added that in theory all first-year entries are supposed to be alcohol free as under Massachusetts laws no one under the age of 21 may purchase, possess, or consume alcoholic beverages.

However student CUL member Lauren Siegel ‘00, who is also an admissions tour guide, said the question of substance-free housing comes up daily on her tours, from both parents and pre-frosh. Darrow said the committee has considered this interest, and may eventually solicit input from first-years to see whether the committee should reconsider its opinion on this issue.

Committee members said they have not yet decided which dorm would potentially be converted into substance-free housing, and will solicit student input before making any final decision.

Siegel said she anticipates that only a small percentage of Williams students would want to live in a substance-free dorm, and the committee is therefore looking at small dorms as potential sites.

Siegel said the committee fears that the student body will be disturbed if the substance-free dorm is located in “prime senior housing.”

“The major concern of people who don’t want to live in it will be ‘Is it going to be in the good house that I want to live in?’ ” she said.

However, considering the other side of the issue, CUL member Paul Friedmann ’00 noted that the dorm should be in a nice house in order to entice students.

“A lot of schools choose the nice housing to draw in the kids who are on the edge [of whether or not they want to live in the dorm],” he said.

“The student members of CUL have been informally talking to other students about their opinions and the response has not been very positive,” Siegel said. “We’re going to do an all-campus anonymous survey to allow everyone to voice an opinion though.”

Friedmann said there are a couple of reasons why the number of interested students may be limited.

“The system is inherently intolerant of infractions of the rules,” he said. “While some people may be interested in avoiding drunken orgies and destruction, etc., they may not want to avoid all substances at all times. Systems like this usually make it ‘illegal’ for a 21-year-old to have one glass of wine over dinner or a beer while watching football.”

Friedmann added that students may be unwilling to participate in a system where they have to turn their classmates in for violations.

“We’ve seen how well that works with the honor code,” he said. “Some people, however, may be interested in finding a place to avoid all substances all the time. I think that the administration sees requests for this every once in a while, and this may have motivated the idea.”

Darrow said the issue of whether to instate substance-free housing came up when Williams acquired the Rectory. At that time there was a movement on campus to turn that living area into substance-free housing, in order to aid in the preservation of the building.

Darrow has recently revived the issue at Williams because he feels that substance-free housing has been available at Williams’ rival schools for some time.

“We are behind,” he said.

Darrow noted that in the past substance-free housing has been viewed as going against the Williams policy which discourages “special interest housing.” Specifically, Darrow said students have been told that “it is who you live with and not who you live next to.” But he added that there is currently an interest in changing this philosophy.

Students at other colleges where substance free dorms exist, offered favorable opinions of the system.

For instance, Karen France, a first-year at Bowdoin College in Maine, lives in an all freshman substance-free dorm that is associated with a substance-free upperclassman house.

France noted that so far the other students in her dorm have abided by the rules and get along well. She added that she does not feel as if she has been labeled a certain way as a result of her residence and said she has many friends in other dorms.

Siegel said the Committee on Undergraduate Life will consider such issues as polarization before making any decision.

There are definitely students who feel that they want such dorms and we wanted to explore the option for them,” she said. “In general though, a big concern for CUL is polarization of campus life – we don’t want to stigmatize or isolate drinkers and non-drinkers, and its important to consider the fact that Williams has no other specialty housing.”