The college is charged with the responsibility of best accommodating the needs and well-being of 1,559 students. While the use of alcohol and drugs is often associated with college campuses, we, at The Phoenix, believe more attention and resources need to be given to a population that is often forgotten: students who are substance-free.
The state of substance-free living arrangements on Swarthmore’s campus leaves room for improvement. The third floor of Hallowell is currently the only substance free housing area on campus and is exclusively available to returning students. Moreover, the school website pertaining to substance-housing is currently out of date by at least one year, waiting on updates in the works. We believe the school should better communicate, provide information on this issue, and crucially expand substance free housing options to incoming first year, an option which currently does not exist.
The Alcohol and Other Drugs survey of 2018-2019 academic year found that 33% of Swarthmore students reported they do not drink alcohol, with 64% saying they did not use cannabis. The survey also found while many students did not personally identify as substance-free, they felt substance-free support was important.
Students’ decision to live in spaces that are substance free may stem from a variety of motivations. Some students simply do not want to return to the smell of weed and alcohol in their living space, but others, coming from backgrounds of substance abuse, feel strongly about not encountering substance use in their new home. While an individual can make the personal decision on whether or not to drink at Pub Nite, or go out to Olde Club on a Saturday evening, they cannot choose where, and with whom, they live. Therefore we feel the college has a duty to provide students to whom a substance-free lifestyle is a priority with living spaces that meet this need.
The college must uphold its promise to students of creating safe living spaces for students. This is promised on the Swarthmore website, which reads, “everyone has the right to work and study in an environment free from the effects of substance misuse and that those individuals who develop problematic levels of using may be a danger to themselves and others.” Although college is a time for experimentation and fun, individuals choosing to consume substances in living areas should not infringe upon others preferred substance free lifestyles. Incoming first years deserve the option to indicate their preference for substance-free housing and to receive the same accommodation that is afforded to returning students.
By allowing and publicizing more substance-free housing, the college is actively normalizing and legitimizing this choice to live substance free, a choice that is difficult on a campus full of social pressures.