On Wednesday, Dean Foster sent a school-wide email with the findings of the Chem-Free Housing Review Committee. After gauging the opinion of the community, the committee found that stigmatization, social rifts, and de facto racial, cultural and ethnic segregation have resulted from the current system.
The committee put forward several recommendations aimed at eliminating the stigma attached to chem-free students. The first states that there must be a shift in the nomenclature. We question whether simply replacing chem-free with "chem-lite" or "substance free" would make a difference. It is certainly more honest to acknowledge that not all chem-free students never partake in drugs or alcohol, but as long as a label is linked to housing assignments, the divide among incoming students will remain.
The most promising change is the report's suggestion to amend the incoming student housing form so that first years rate the importance of chem-free living on a scale, as is currently done with cleanliness. This would be a progressive revision, allowing students to more accurately convey their personal preferences and minimizing confusion about what chem-free really means.
Furthermore, the scale model would allow Residential Life to group students into individual rooms and floors using a more nuanced method. The report states that in two years, a floating-floor model could place chem-free floors in several first year bricks; Hyde Hall would no longer be exclusively chem-free.
This strategy was piloted in Coleman Hall in 2008 and was found to reduce the stigma attached to chem-free living. However, we believe the floating-floor model is only an intermediate solution: Optimally, individual rooms or room clusters of students who trend toward the chem-free end of the spectrum should be integrated within floors of non-chem-free students.
Forgoing a chem-free Hyde in favor of scattered floating floors affiliated with Howell House would leave Hyde residents without a College House. The report suggests the option of consolidating first years into seven Bricks, ostensibly forcing triples in West and Osher Halls and quints on the Quad. Although this solution would leave one brick free for upperclass housing, it would also cramp first years into even tighter quarters. The committee's final recommendation to split the floors of Winthrop between two College Houses is much more promising.
In the long term however, the best solution is to add another College House so that every brick has a unique affiliate, with Howell as a resource for all chem-free students. Bowdoin trumpets its College House system as a defining component of campus social life, yet last year, only two out of every three applicants were granted a place in a house. By incorporating a ninth house into the system, the College could both address rising demand and afford to have floating chem-free clusters affiliated with Howell.
We applaud the College's candid acknowledgement of the social divisions created by the current chem-free arrangement. Chem-free tests the limits of our attempt to be an inclusive community, and though they are only a step, the current proposed changes will bring us closer to that ideal.
The editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient's editorial board, which is comprised of Erica Berry, Nick Daniels, Carlo Davis, Sam Frizell, Linda Kinstler, and Zoë Lescaze.