Committee explores substance-free housing

At the request of members of the administration, a committee has formed to investigate the possibility of introducing a substance- free housing option on campus, and to consider the advantages and disadvantages of such a system. The committee met for the first time last week.

The committee convened at the request of Dean Merrill, who expressed interest in exploring the option of “wellness housing” that other NESCAC schools offer, in terms of its feasibility at the College. Williams is the only member of the NESCAC that does not offer a substance-free housing option. According to members of the committee, the issue is a concern that students have voiced in the past.

Substance-free housing would provide an alternative to the alcohol culture present on campus. Sa-Kiera Hudson ’11, a member of the committee, expressed certainty that there are students who would be interested in the option because living in dorms where drinking is a major activity might be detrimental to academic performance and other aspects of college life. However, she added that it can be difficult to avoid drinking in college. “Alcohol abstinence sometimes stigmatizes,” Hudson said.

Since the committee has only had one meeting, the members have not yet developed a coherent plan. The first step will be to conduct an extensive research over the summer in regards to other NESCAC schools. The committee plans to contact not only housing offices but also residential advisors, as well as students, for evaluation and comments about the pros and cons of a “substance-free experience.”

The main purpose of the committee at present is to investigate. “Our purpose, as I understand it, is to find out what the experience of other schools has been, how they’ve met the various associated challenges – and to give some thought to whether, and if so how, a wellness housing model might be adaptable to the particular culture of our campus,” said Rick Spalding, Chaplain of the College who sits on the committee.
Committee members admitted that the issue may prove to be a controversial one. “We anticipate attacks,” Hudson said, adding that the committee is aware of the fact that people could view substance-free housing as “theme housing,” and consider it divisive. Nevertheless, the committee is adamant that this is simply a proposal for a “healthy living” opportunity. Should the system be introduced, each housing unit could have the freedom to devise its own “constitution,” under which the residents could define what “substance-free” is for their own unique situation.

Having completed the research step, the committee will run through next year, looking into challenges particular to the College. Factors to be considered are the level of need and interest in substance-free housing, how it would integrate in the neighborhood system and in what ways it would fit the College philosophy of housing.

The committee has plans to recruit new members to create a broad spectrum of participants as they continue their investigation into next year.

The committee’s seven members are students Hudson, Meredith Annex ’11 and Elizabeth Jimenez ’12, Spalding, Substance Abuse Counselor Laini Sporbert and Doug Schiazza and Aaron Gordon, members of the Office of Campus Life.