By Kurt Chirbas
Mirrielees will serve as the test site for a new substance-free undergraduate housing option this upcoming fall, according to Deborah Golder, dean of Residential Education (ResEd). Twenty-four upperclassmen will participate in the pilot program, which will be held in a first-floor wing of the apartment residence.
These students, to be selected through a pre-assignment process, will make a commitment that they and their guests will not “be in possession of, use or be under the influence of” identified substances while in the residence, according to ResEd’s website. The barred substances include alcohol, illicit drugs and cigarettes, while the misuse of prescription or over-the-counter medication will also be prohibited.
The initiative, which Golder referred to as “a big experiment,” follows a recommendation from a University alcohol policy study group committee last spring. ResEd made the final decision to launch the program for the 2012-13 academic year just within the last few weeks, pushing the project forward to meet this Friday’s student deadline for pre-assigning.
“We were going to spend a little bit more time in the planning stages,” Golder said. “But I think folks felt, ‘Hey, let’s go for it. We don’t need to take over a whole house. Let’s just try it. Let’s just see.’”
The program utilizes the pre-assignment process to ensure students commit upfront to making the community substance-free, Golder said. She added that the residence would differ from other themed-housing options in that it would have minimal special programming.
“It’s not intended to be this overly prescribed educational experience,” Golder said. “It really is live your life, do what you do, but you are committing that alcohol will not be part of the living environment.”
“We don’t imagine the program to have lots of presentations on alcohol,” she cited as an example. “Why would you say that to people who have chosen not to have that as part of their living environment?”
According to Golder, this approach is intended as an acknowledgement that students may choose to pre-assign in this residence for a variety of reasons. She said that students might elect to live in substance-free housing for reasons ranging from health, to religion, to personal choice.
With the pre-assignment deadline looming, and because of the relatively short amount of time the housing application has been available, Golder said that ResEd has decided to market the residence based on “personal connections.” ResEd has reached out to officials from different departments on campus including Stanford Athletics, the Office for Religious Life, Student Affairs and individual Residential Fellows (RFs) to ask if they know any students who might be interested living in a substance-free community.
“We might have moderate or mild student interest, or we might have abundant student interest,” Golder said. “We don’t need thousands of people to sign up. We just need to know if there are students who want this option to exist.”
The Stanford Daily Editorial Board, a body of students independent of the Daily staff, wrote in February in support of a pilot substance-free residence restricted to upperclassmen (“Time to establish substance-free housing,” Feb. 27).
Relating to broader University efforts
The recommendation to establish a substance-free residence on campus came from an alcohol policy committee made up of students, faculty and staff members convened last year. This committee served as a precursor to the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education (OAPE), which was established in September and is headed up by Ralph Castro, former associate director of the Vaden Health Center.
Castro wrote in an email to The Daily that he supports the concept of substance-free housing because it “fits into OAPE’s goal of increasing support for non-drinkers and light drinkers.”
“OAPE is focused on decreasing harm associated with alcohol misuse and high-risk drinking,” he said. “Substance-free housing is one tool that can aid in furthering this vision in my opinion.”
Similar in aim to OAPE’s Cardinal Nights, ResEd plans to delegate extra money to the residents of the substance-free community so they can throw events that will offer non-alcoholic alternatives to the typical on-campus social scene, specifically during weekends and before athletic games. Golder assured, however, that this residence would not get a “disproportionate” funding when compared with other themed programs on campus.
“Students will often say that it feels like the only thing to do socially is to go to a party where there’s alcohol,” she added. “We don’t want the burden to be on students [to finance non-alcoholic events]. We want to give them the resources, so they can do what they want to do.”
She said the community might use this money to finance trips to go bowling or to the movies, or to have a video game marathon or a cooking night.
According to Golder, the mission of substance-free housing expands beyond the University’s recent efforts to campaign against alcohol abuse.
“I think [the residence] helps to support the notion of responsible and healthy use of alcohol as an example by saying, ‘I’m choosing not to have substance in my home,’” Golder said. “So it supports that.
“But in some sense,” she added. “I think of it as discreet. I think of it as having a full-range of options of student living environments, and this should be one of the options that we offer.”
Choosing the location
ResEd chose Mirrielees, an apartment residence that was formerly a part of the Escondido Village graduate community, as the site of the pilot program because of its history of being “upperclassmen-run and more student-owned,” according to Golder. Instead of a typical RF, Mirrielees has a ResEd staff member, Tiffany Taylor, who serves as an area coordinator.
“We want students to have ownership of this experience, and [for it not to] be because of some parental notion,” Golder said. “Not that RFs only exist in this way, but we want students to be the drivers of their experience — instead of a program, or an RF, or ResEd.”
For instance, Golder said that the community will choose for itself at the beginning of the year how it wants to handle situations when a resident breaches his or her substance-free commitment, instead of having reprimands issued by ResEd. Golder said ResEd wants to avoid the residence becoming a “police state.”
“What I’m not interested in is ‘ResEd said you can’t do this.’ So what?” she added. “What matters much more is if you and I lived next door to each other, that I care about you and respect you enough to not do something that would upset you or hurt you.
She also said that Mirrielees tends to be an attractive place for students to live. In the 2009 Draw, Mirrielees was filled with residents who had Tier 1 or low Tier 2 draw numbers.
“We wanted to have a residence that is somewhat popular for upperclass students,” Golder said. “Wanting geography to be a reward, not a punishment.”
Based on the results of the pilot program, ResEd will reconsider where the substance-free residence should be established in the long term.
While the Draw takes place each year in the spring, a decision must be made by the beginning of winter quarter next year about what direction to take substance-free housing in next, Golder said. ResEd will be seeking feedback now through the end of fall quarter.
“Our first indicator will likely be based on the number of students who apply for pre-assignment,” wrote ResEd Assistant Dean Zac Sargeant in an email to The Daily. “We will continue to gauge student interest, so we can respond accordingly.”
Sargeant said ResEd will also look at “pre-assignment applications, Draw data and community assessments” to determine the next step.
Golder said she could imagine substance-free housing eventually becoming similar to gender-neutral housing, offered at multiple residences on campus, or it could expand into an entire building if there is enough interest.
“This year will give us some data instead of some hypotheticals,” Golder said. “Then we can make some good decisions based on student interest and student need.”
“We are about choice in our residential system,” she added. “We have 78 houses with all different varieties of options available to students…We wanted this to be one option.”