Your roommate just came back from a long night of partying. You decided to stay in and do some work. Your roommate is drunk and throws up all over your floor. Your peace has been disrupted.

Substance-free housing is an alternative for students who do not wish to be exposed to alcohol, drugs and smoking in their residence hall. These students share the same feelings about substance abuse and usually do not drink, smoke or use drugs.

“Substance-free housing is a community of students who wish to live together who share similar philosophies of health, abstinence, etc., such that they don’t drink, smoke or use other substances,” said Jeanne DiMuzio, director of Wellness and Prevention at Fairfield University.

All of the residence halls on campus are smoke-free, and drinking is illegal for students under 21 years old, so how does substance-free housing make a difference in how students live? Is it just a public relations gimmick for parents?

According to The New York Times, substance-free housing has become popular at many campuses nationwide since the early 1990s, from large state universities like the University of Michigan to Ivy League schools like Dartmouth and small liberal arts colleges like Vassar.

Students choose substance-free housing for a variety of reasons. Some students are influenced by their parents, while others make a personal decision.

“My parents influenced my decision,” said Adam Zandonella ’09. “I took into account what they said because they are paying my school fees.”

Substance-free housing makes a large difference, according to some students who utilize this alternative form of housing.

Patrick Dameron ’06, who is a Resident Assistant on the fourth floor of Campion, Fairfield’s only substance-free floor, lived in sub-free housing during both his freshman and sophomore years.

“Substance-free housing brings kids together,” said Dameron. “Everyone is friends, and we hang out together. We have the cleanest bathroom on campus. Substance-free housing is a great way to form a good community.”

Students in substance-free housing at Fairfield agree that it surrounds them with like-minded people. They are taught that it is OK if you do not drink, said Dameron. It also helps them stay focused on schoolwork.

According to The New York Times, a 2001 study of more than 14,000 students nationwide found that, compared with other students, only three-fifths as many residents of substance-free housing reported binge drinking in the previous two weeks.

“Substance-free housing keeps me focused on education and helps me keep my priorities straight,” said Zandonella.

A major benefit of living in substance-free housing is that students can study in their rooms versus walking to the library, according to residents. Substance-free floors are usually quieter and cleaner than regular dorm floors, residents also report.

“Conditions are clean,” said Zandonella. “There are no worries of the bathroom being dirty the morning after.”

Some students, like Casey Rieger ’09, said that there is a sense of respect that students have toward one another in substance-free housing.

“It’s a situation where people go out to do things but don’t bring it back to their rooms,” said Rieger. “There are no write-ups. We have the opportunity to go out, but there is no noise back at the floor or rowdy parties. Everyone respects each other.”

According to the New York Times, some campuses, including Rutgers, offer “recovery” housing for students who have been in treatment for addiction.

“Some students attend Fairfield who may be in recovery,” said DiMuzio, “meaning, they come from a home where a substance(s) affected their lives. These students are in the pre-contemplation phase of choosing to abstain from all substances and need an environment that will support this decision.”

For other Fairfield students, substance-free housing falls short of expectations.

“I didn’t like it,” said Elizabeth Mangione ’06, who lived in substance-free housing during both her freshmen and sophomore years. “I also don’t understand it because it’s mostly freshman and sophomores who are supposed to be substance-free anyway since most are under 21.”

Other students believe that substance-free housing can have an isolating effect.

“Drawbacks are that if you’re not really into the whole substance-free thing, you’re treated like an outsider when it’s really just supposed to be a community,” said Mariel Kauffman ’06.

“People weren’t very social, especially freshman year,” Mangione said. “Sophomore year there were social people, but most of the people that year, like me, had only applied for substance-free housing to get a room on the quad.”

All in all, substance-free housing has its benefits and its shortcomings. Students have mixed feelings about its purpose.

“In theory, it’s a great idea,” said Kauffman. “But not everyone adheres to the rules. It’s college. There is no way to make everyone sub-free.”

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