For Abstainers, a Place of Their Own

University accommodates students who prefer living in a no-alcohol environment.

January/February 2013

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For Abstainers, a Place of Their Own

For the first time, Stanford has designated substance-free housing, primarily targeting alcohol use and initially limited to one wing of the Mirrielees House apartments. The program opened in the fall with 24 occupants, including the resident assistant. (Mirrielees houses almost 300 students.) Freshmen were ineligible.

The impetus, according to Ralph J. Castro, director of the Office of Alcohol Policy & Education, was a more proactive strategy on the part of the University "to really support non-drinkers and light drinkers in a way that we hadn't done before." The restriction, which the residents have the option of codifying in detail, is understood to also encompass unlawful drugs and all forms of tobacco. University policy prohibits smoking in all enclosed buildings and facilities. Except in the substance-free wing and other designated locations, including the dining halls, students of legal age may possess alcohol.

Substance-free residents, who applied for the program when it was announced through the Office of Residential Education, have flexibility away from their housing. As Castro notes, they might have drinks elsewhere, but "they just cannot come back under the influence of alcohol or bring alcohol into the area."

For Johnathan Bowes, '15, landing a substance-free slot was an important factor in improving his housing experience. During his freshman year in the Faisan house of Florence Moore Hall, Bowes explains, "I felt in general the community was kind of geared toward alcohol. . . . If you were drinking you had your own community. And if you didn't drink, you were on the outskirts much of the time."

Bowes is a non-drinker, but says there's no "women's temperance union" atmosphere in the substance-free quarters. The group vibe is evolving gradually, he says, but the first month or so, at least for him, offered "a quiet kind of retreat almost, from a hectic party scene."

Resident fellow Tiffany Taylor, the area coordinator for Mirrielees, says her emphasis in helping to establish the program has been to encourage students to shape its direction. "What do you want this to look like?" she asks them. "What do you want to get out of it?"

Castro says his office and Residential Education will confer on how the program is serving students and whether it should be expanded. For now, the focus is on supporting the ideas of the inaugural students. "We produced a space that has a general concept, but we're allowing them to define what that looks like . . . and the policing of it as well."

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