Substance-Free Dorms Get Good Grades

Parents, school administrators, and students are counted among the fans of substance-free dorms, which ban the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

The New York Times reported Nov. 6 that it is often parents who sign their kids up to live in a drug-free dorm. “If your parents are looking over your shoulders when you fill out the housing forms, you want to look good,” said George Awkward III, a senior at Washington and Lee University. “I thought I would see what it’s like, and my mom said, ‘You need it.’ We kind of made the decision together.”

Such dorms are now available at dozens of colleges nationally. Some see a disconnect between the concept and the fact that students under 21 are not legally allowed to drink, anyway. But the drinking law is widely flouted, and researchers say that students in drug-free dorms are less likely to binge drink than their peers, and less apt to suffer drinking-related problems like poor grades, encounters with police, or accepting rides with drunk drivers.

“The best bet for students who come into college and want to avoid the secondhand effects of drinking, like having their studying interrupted or having property vandalized, is to request substance-free residences,” said study author Henry Wechsler, director of the College Alcohol Studies project at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Even some students who drink like the idea of drug-free dorms. “Sometimes it’s parent driven, but a lot of times it’s students who drink socially but don’t want to live in a climate where there’s a lot of drunkenness around them,” said Alan Levy, director of housing public affairs at the University of Michigan.

Some schools have taken the concept a step further, offering “recovery” dorms for students previously treated for addiction. “I was in residential treatment for part of my time in high school,” said one junior at Earlham College. “When I got to college, I didn’t want to have to worry about having all that stuff in my face. I’ve been in wellness housing my whole time here. I could handle normal housing now, but I like the people I live with, and there’s a very good atmosphere.”

Freshmen tend to find drug-free dorms the most appealing. Schools like the dorms not only because of the message they send but because they suffer about half the property damage than “wet” dorms. 

Source: New York Times reported Nov. 6 2005

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