The (In)effectiveness of Substance-Free Housing

Not all students living in dedicated substance-free residential spaces requested to live there. Every year, students are placed in substance-free living communities who did not request to live there. Only half of the spots in substance-free residence halls are requested by students, according to data from the Office of Housing and Conferences. Therefore, the other half of the students in any one of these given communities across campus are placed there by staff members.

Photo by Daniel Sarché

Assistant Director of Residential Life and Campus Activities, Bethany Grubbs, said substance-free spaces on campus—residential areas in which community members agree to abstain from substance use of any kind—were originally implemented in the early 2000s per students’ requests, with Ticknor hall as the first designated ‘sub-free’ space.

During the 2008 housing selection process, substance-free became an entirely separate procedure, including an application, and has since expanded to its current locations in South Hall, Loomis Hall, which has two substance-free halls this year, and Arthur House.

“We’ve seen some impressive growth of interest since I was an RLC eight years ago,” said Grubbs. But while the number of requests may certainly have grown in the last eight years, the question still remains of the true demand for these spaces.

Kekai Wong Yuen ‘20 lived in South’s substance-free hall as a first-year student last year and requested to be the RA of this space as a second year because of her positive experience. Wong Yuen said she thought around 50 percent of her residents requested to be in her hall. She also freely acknowledged that “not everyone is sub-free,” but that “is bound to happen.”

Wong Yuen, substance-free herself, said she does not mind if certain students choose to consume substances “as long as they do their own business outside the hall.” However, she said “when they come to the hall, they have to respect the rules.”

Darryl Filmore ‘20, the Resident Advisor of Arthur, expressed sentiment similar to Wong Yuen’s about her residents’ substance use. “There’s definitely a culture [in Arthur] where if you’re going to consume substances, you keep them well-hidden,” Filmore said.

Thankfully, neither Wong Yuen nor Filmore have experienced many conflicts or difficulties in their communities due to substance use. However, an anonymous source revealed that substance-free residents feel negatively about having substance-users in their designated space, even if they respect the hall rules and keep activities “well-hidden.”

In the survey of South’s substance-free hall, eight of 11 respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “I wish CC was more serious about maintaining its commitment to substance-free spaces, and thus wouldn’t put students there who didn’t request to be there.”

At least one student who took the survey did not request to be in substance-free and wrote an additional comment saying: “It was fine and I didn’t have a problem with [my placement] but do think students should only be put there if they want to be there.”

For members of our campus community who are struggling with substance abuse or addiction substance free spaces that aren’t really substance free pose a potential problem?

“Students in recovery don’t always feel a sense of belonging in substance-free communities, due to the gap in motivations for remaining substance-free,” according to Grubbs. Yet, such students, she continued, “can certainly benefit from the intentional programming and support around the recovery process that is often provided in recovery houses.”

In 2014, the American College Health Association collected data on CC students and found that 1.3 percent of the total student body—approximately 26 students—were diagnosed with substance abuse or addiction in the past 12 months.

Grubbs said the college hasn’t “yet done any surveying to see who would be interested in a recovery hall,” and that her department would “want to concurrently assess both our need for it, and our ability to adequately support it.”

Grace Perry

Grace Perry

Grace Perry has been writing for the Catalyst since January 2018. She is a sociology major and double minor in journalism and Spanish.

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