Substance-free housing not offered at this university since ’90s

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By Jennifer Schultz, for the Mitzpeh, @jennyfromthenap

The sixth floor of Denton Hall was designated as a no-drinking, no-smoking zone in the mid-1990s. Jacob Schaperow/Mitzpeh

The sixth floor of Denton Hall was designated as a no-drinking, no-smoking zone in the mid-1990s. Since the university went banned smoking in residence halls in 2001, it phased out designated substance-free housing. Jacob Schaperow/Mitzpeh

The Department of Resident Life at this university formed a committee in October to decide the future of substance-free housing on campus. This kind of housing has not been offered since the 1990s but lately a small number of students have been asking for it to be reinstated and for one student and his family it could not come fast enough.

Substance-free housing is not an issue that most students think twice about but for Colin Wick it was the first thought that came to mind when he decided to return to this university as a junior. Wick left school last year to enter a Florida rehab center for substance abuse and now that he is sober he wants to return to school. Unfortunately, that comes with some risks.

“Finding the right fit of where to live is a challenge because I have very little control over vetting potential roommates or residence halls,” Wick said. He does not want to end up living with someone who drinks. Wick added, “After going to treatment it was important to me that I could be surrounded by and live with people who understand what it is like to be a sober student.”

His mother, Chrissy Keene, said that when her son showed interest in returning to school she immediately reached out to the Department of Resident Life. When she was told that there was currently no substance-free housing on campus, she was disappointed. The most the department could do for her son was to provide him a single room if one became available.

According to Michael J. Glowacki, Assistant to the Resident Life Director, “The department expects to hear some recommendations from our committee by mid-Spring. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to offer some substance-free options in residence halls by next fall.” For students like Wick, that is too long of a wait and one that could have been prevented.

Glowacki said that the department has received requests from students and their families for a substance-free option in residence halls. The department does not track every request it receives, but a small group of students have persistently asked for the option.

Glowacki explained that the university ended substance-free housing when the campus went smoke-free in 2001.

“A large percentage of students who requested substance-free housing were primarily interested in avoiding exposure to cigarette smoke,” he said. “Once the decision was made to make all residence halls smoke-free, that addressed the needs of a large number of students.”

The substance-free housing in the ‘90s prevented students from smoking and drinking in designated halls. Illegal drugs have always been banned in dorms.

According to a 1996 Daily Press article, more than 8,000 students had chosen substance-free housing at the university in the three years prior. The majority of these students wanted substance-free housing to get away from cigarette smoke while a smaller percentage of students wanted to avoid drinking. When the Department of Resident Life faculty ended substance-free housing in 2001, they neglected the needs of the latter.

The university could learn a lesson from other colleges in the state that have effectively implemented substance-free housing. Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Frostburg State University in Frostburg and McDaniel College in Westminster all offer alcohol-free housing to their students.

Director of Residence Life at McDaniel College Michael Robbins said, “We continue substance-free housing because some students just don’t want to live somewhere where peers are coming back under the influence or drinking in the room and being a distraction. I would certainly say the decision to keep the housing is successful.”

Though their numbers are small, students like Wick are anticipating action by the Resident Life committee to provide a solution to this very real problem.

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