As I got more acquainted with Amherst life, I realized that there was a certain stigma attached to students living in sub-free housing. My fellow freshmen thought that sub-free kids went to bed at 9:30 after dutifully finishing their homework, or were stuck in their rooms playing Dungeons and Dragons. Yes, some sub-free kids do have such lifestyles and are vehemently against substances. But to put that gross generalization on a very diverse and different group of students is unfair and limiting.
Not all sub-free residents are against alcohol or substance use. Contrary to popular and misguided belief, they do go out and have fun at night. I was surprised to bump into a fair number of sub-free freshmen at various parties, in their hands a classic red solo cup. But by not bringing alcohol into their rooms or coming back trashed, the sub-free kids choose to leave the mess outside the door. This way they have the fun they want without the costly charges of dorm damage or angry resident counsellors. Don’t think that the ones who don’t go out don’t have their share of fun. I have often heard rambunctious guitar sing-along sessions (the quality of which I won’t comment on) coming from the third floor of Stearns, as well as Stearns residents stirring exciting and semi-violent rivalries against their next-door neighbor, James. Regardless of what their preferences are and what they approve of, these students find a sub-free environment safe, clean, cost-effective and convenient.
Unfortunately, freshmen in sub-free dorms face a difficult choice for next year. There is only one assigned substance-free dorm, the Health and Wellness Theme House, which has limited capacities and requires a separate application process than the room draw. We have a considerable group of sub-free freshmen this year, with both Stearns and Williston used as sub-free housing. There will be more sub-free sophomores and juniors potentially looking for a sub-free environment next year — so where do all the sub-free people go? With the number of people preferring to live in substance free dorms increasing, the strain and competition on securing a safe, sub-free space is only going to grow bigger. Second, sub-free students are aware of the stigmas that they face for living in a sub-free environment, and have to make a choice to either accept or avoid certain generalizations and stigmas that comes with the living environmentin which they choose to reside.
Including upperclassmen sub-free options in the room draw can solve both of these problems and concerns. A room-draw option gives more choice for students than having the only option of separately applying to the Health and Wellness House, which can potentially be a process too burdensome for some students. Furthermore, by spreading mixed class sub-free residents across campus and increasing daily interaction between sub-free and non-sub-free residents, the idea of being sub-free won’t be perceived as isolated or as foreign as it is now. Promoting this choice by widening options and making it an accessible choice (compared to the fairly isolated and the only upper-class option, Val) will encourage students to choose sub-free without concerns.
Living in a substance-free option is still not my piece of cake, but talking to friends living in sub-free housing has led me to acknowledge its obvious benefits. For one, I know that the sub-free kids next door won’t be suffering from the weekly vomit sessions in the bathrooms, a mystery and a concern in the Chuck Pratt headquarters. If there is an obvious demand for a sub-free lifestyle as well as benefits of achieving a more accepting community, I feel that there is no reason to stop sub-free students from having better options than to choose one or none.