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Vacancies in substance free dorms cause problems for Residence Life

October 29, 2009

UW-River Falls’ Residence Life is experiencing difficulties filling the substance free halls on campus, causing the department to rethink the program.

UWRF has given students living on campus the option to live in a substance free environment since the fall of 2007.

“If [someone] has grown up in an alcoholic family then it might be refreshing to be in an environment that does not have it [alcohol] around,” UWRF student Kelly Jacobs said.

This year there were problems filling these spaces. Students are not assigned to a substance free floor unless they requested or said they were willing to live there, which is why there continues to be some vacancies, according to Julie Phelps, assistant director for Residence Life-facilities and administration.

“The first year we offered a substance free wing was in the fall of 2007,” Kristie Feist, assistant director-community development and education department of Residence Life, said in an e-mail. “We offered one floor in Johnson Hall for first year students. Since then we have added two more floors.”

A former staff member introduced the option during the spring of 2007 after having worked with a similar program at another institution, Feist said.

“We researched what other institutions in the region were doing with substance free and felt like it would be a good option for our students,” she said. “Students who choose to live in a substance free community agree to not engage in use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs in or around their residence hall.”

If a student is found responsible for using alcohol or tobacco or other drugs, and they have signed the substance free contract, they may be moved to another location on campus for housing, according to Feist.

“It doesn’t happen often, but it has,” she said. “We have had to remove students from the environment for choices they made to use alcohol or other drugs and have negatively impacted the community.”

Currently there are three floors in Johnson Hall designated as substance free.

“Even though I am not substance free, if students want to be surrounded in a substance free environment then there is a need for it,” Jacobs said. “Sometimes, if people are around it for a long time or have bad connections with it, being around it can bring up strong emotions.”

The substance free community will continue to be a living option for students, but the number of substance free spaces offered will lessen based off the challenges Residence Life had in filling the halls, according to Phelps.

“I think if there are people that feel that living in a neutral environment where substances are not present, if that makes them more comfortable then the option should be available,” UWRF student Tyler Halverson said.