Substance-free a necesary risk

Personally, I wonder if equating a proposal for a substance-free housing option with a proposal for “theme” housing is minimizing the significance of the request. There was no attempt by the CUL to suggest that the assurance of a substance-free environment is entertaining or is a request for living together out of common interests (the way I understand interest-based or “theme” housing).

If anything, I saw it as an opportunity for students from a broad range of interests to promote a living environment. These interests may include desires to escape family problems with alcohol, to live in a substance-free environment, or to express religious convictions. In fact, a case could easily be made that for some students this option might be critical to their sobriety or their ability to function effectively in society.

As indicated in the President’s and Dean’s letter, “Many Williams students struggle or fail every year because of substance abuse, or because of problems that are strongly associated with substance abuse.” I wonder if the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. Section 12102) might necessitate that accommodations be made for students at risk of disability by their substance abuse history, prior to coming to Williams, who would be less at risk in a substance-free environment.

On that level, I am disappointed this could not work out. I have heard stories about students who contacted the Dean’s Office and the Health Center regarding a lack of substance-free housing. As a summer tour guide, I had to tell many concerned parents and potential Williams students that there was no substance-free housing option available for any Williams student. Given these experiences, I hoped the CUL proposal might pass and that these concerns would no longer be an issue.

As for the governance and administration issue, perhaps, as indicated in the President’s and Dean’s opinion, enforcement was not as thought through by the CUL as it should have been; however, I am not so sure. I think the CUL thought that because the student population in the substance-free house would be a self-selecting entity, there would be no need for additional enforcement.

As a committee designed to investigate issues facing the campus and then make recommendations to the campus, the CUL was not of the belief that every last detail had to be nailed down. We wanted to leave the “rules” in the hands of the students who would live in the substance-free situation. It seems to me that most policies which are passed are in a working form – especially when they may change the status quo.

I do not believe that the CUL was asking to change policy if it would make things worse, only to pilot a reasonable program which could be monitored by members of the CUL and other committees alike, over a reasonable length of time, to determine its effectiveness.

As the President’s and Dean’s letter mentions, there are significant issues related to substance abuse on the campus – problems that have continued to remain unaddressed: “it seems imperative that the community make improvements in this system, making it both accountable and responsible.”

The CUL was encouraged by research which detailed successful substance-free housing programs at many other schools similar to Williams, including Middlebury, Amherst, Colby and Wesleyan. We hoped to have the opportunity to attempt this “improvement” to the Williams system.

What was being advocated here was clearly a change to the status quo of housing at Williams and I know the committee realized that. We held many serious discussions about the implications of this potential change. Ultimately, I think we doubted that housing 24 students in one house deemed “substance-free” would affect the campus in a negative way, if it really affected the campus at all.

It seems that until something like this is actually put into action, it is impossible to know its true affect – thus, the intention of our pilot study. We were willing to take a risk and alter the status quo. I am disappointed that we did not get that chance, but since the issue has been brought to bear with the work the CUL has done, my hope is that discussion with the administration will be ongoing.

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