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The Scarlet & Black

Letter: Response from Residence Life

Last week, the S&B wrote a staff editorial criticizing the choice of James as the new substance-free dorm. As members of the Residence Life Committee, we wish to address some of the inaccuracies in the editorial.

The editorial cited a lack of student input. However, out of all the decisions the administration has made this year, the designation of a new substance-free hall had the most student input. First, the Residence Life Committee is a majority student committee and includes at least two senators and the VPSA as members. Besides gaining representation through elected officials, the committee further asked for student opinion at several Joint Board meetings and senators sent emails asking for student input. Not stopping there, we set up an unofficial survey on P-Web asking the student body their opinions. Additionally, individual email surveys were sent to current upper-class students who drew into substance-free housing and current first year students who requested substance-free housing, but instead were “clustered” in non-substance-free halls. Moreover, messages posted on P-Web, emails received by the Residence Life Office, and student at large feedback was reviewed and discussed during the weekly Residence Life Committee meetings.

Based on opinion gathered from the ALL substance-free surveys, we found the editorial’s concerns about current substance-free students’ unwillingness to draw into South Campus to be unfounded. Furthermore, we found the opposite to be true—many current substance-free residents said that even though they wished to live in substance-free housing, they would not draw into Norris and would choose an alternate (non-substance-free) hall.

Due to the need for first-year and sophomore rooms, the only options that could accommodate the excess substance-free demand were adding Main, Cleveland, or James OR moving the North Campus substance-free hall from Smith to Norris. The editorial suggests that the latter was the best option. However, the committee decided to remove Norris as an option due to lack of student interest. Students across the board were not willing to lose Smith in order to add Norris. Students also felt very strongly that by using the furthest dorm on North Campus, we were trying to “separate” substance-free students from the rest of campus. Choosing Norris would send a message that the campus wants to push the substance-free students as far away from the main part of campus as possible into a dorm with a reputation for being one of the least popular. For instance, what message would the administration have sent if it decided to only have gender-neutral housing in Norris?

Thus, the committee decided to increase student choice in substance-free housing by returning substance-free housing to South Campus (Read was the first substance-free dorm). The editorial opposes this parity by pointing to the lack of air conditioning in several dorms. However, air conditioning is not added to more dorms because of the prohibitive costs involved with retrofitting the older dorms. Just because complete parity cannot be achieved does not mean it should be ignored.

After deciding to include a substance-free option on South Campus, the committee and administration had to make a difficult decision and determine which residence hall would become substance-free. James meets first and second-year student (substance-free) need but may not meet upper-class need because there is only one single room. Cleveland and Main offered more single room options to upper class students but posed their own challenges. Gardner Lounge is located in Main, which made Main a poor choice for substance-free. For Cleveland, we determined it could be thoroughly cleaned by hiring a smoke removal cleaning service. Even though Cleveland has consistently been the last hall to fill during room draw, it was made very clear to the Res Life Committee there was little or no student support for Cleveland becoming substance-free.

In the end, the best choice was to designate James as the new substance-free hall. There is a continual and increasing need for first and second year substance-free housing/spaces. Substance-free clustering simply does not work. In order to meet substance-free student demand AND recognize and appreciate the voice of students currently on campus—James was the clear choice.

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