Alcohol-free housing to greet freshman this fall

First-year students who will live in campus housing this fall will be expected to live substance free.

Residence Life will pioneer what it calls a Community Wellness Initiative in its first-year housing areas beginning this fall. Within this substance-free housing, residents and their guests will not be allowed to consume alcohol, smoke tobacco products, or use or possess illegal drugs and related paraphernalia.

For Dawn Dooley, director of Residence Life, the purpose of the new initiative is to promote a quality lifestyle.

“It’s trying to support healthy living and an academic environment,” she said.

The new initiative will encompass only the areas of housing dedicated to first-year students, with the exception of the Alyeska community for engineering students.

“Those areas are all first-year student areas, so all those students are under 20 (years old) and under 20 college credits, so by nature of those areas, they are also areas which they are not of age to drink,” Dooley said.

Current Resident Life policy forbids underage drinking, smoking indoors and use or possession of illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia.

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“What I like about this policy is that it provides students another statement that they might be able to use to refrain from drinking,” said Michael Votava, associate director of Residence Life.

Some students who have experienced life in first-year dorms think a need for new policies regarding conduct is apparent.

“There’s parties in the first month every weekend,” said Mae Mendenhall, a freshman mechanical engineering major and North Hall resident. “In the first few weeks there’s police there every day and it’s just loud.”

However, the new wellness initiative will not bring with it an increase in the severity of consequences associated with violating substance-related policies. The consequences established by the Dean of Students’ office for misusing alcohol and other intoxicants will remain the same, raising concerns among some students regarding the need for a new, substance-free option.

“A lot of the students that come into college right now that are staying in North Hall are all underage,” Mendenhall said. “So they know it’s against the law, and they just do it anyway.”

UAA will use educational programs to discourage drug and alcohol abuse. In addition, the university has programs to assess the degree of alcohol and drug misuse occurring on campus.

Along with providing assistance in recognizing problems related to drug and alcohol use, Residence Life hopes to provide students make positive choices when choosing a living environment. They hope to accomplish this through education and the continuation of a policy allowing returning students to choose their rooms and roommates.

“We try to really encourage residents to pick people to live with that they want to live with at that point, after they’ve been here for a year,” Dooley said. “Hopefully our program helps them to form those relationships and friendships.”

The organization of the students in campus housing is also intended to provide a buffer between energetic younger students and their older counterparts. Students who are beginning their education at an older age are considered non-traditional students and are given the opportunity to live separate from the younger traditional students.

“I think we’re very intentional too about how we’re doing room placement,” Votava said. “In the Main Apartment Complex for instance, Building 1 is going to be set aside for more of our non-traditional student population.”

To better educate incoming students about the challenges of college life, next year North Hall residents will be required to attend Guidance 150, Survival Skills for College Students.

Guidance 150 will be offered in a classroom on the fourth floor of North Hall, and will be exclusively open to residents of North Hall. Other college survival courses are available through the course catalog with open enrollment.

“We’re hoping that if it’s successful, we’re hoping to really expand that program in the future because college survival skills, I think, can really benefit students in their long term success and retention in college,” Dooley said.