Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) held the second installment of its newly instituted "Discussion Series" last night. The conversation focused on chem-free housing at Bowdoin.
The discussion, facilitated by the BSG Student Affairs Committee, aimed to spur student debate about the purpose and efficacy of chem-free dormitories. The committee felt it was an important issue for its constituents, especially considering the expansion of chem-free housing options off campus next year. Elm Street and School Street apartments will both be chem-free for the first time.
At last night's meeting, the majority of discussion focused on first year chem-free housing, which traditionally has been limited to Hyde Hall but has expanded in recent years to include floors in Winthrop, Appleton and Coleman Halls.
BSG Vice President of Student Affairs Chanwoong Baek '12 spoke about the decision to focus a discussion on chem-free housing.
"The purpose of this discussion is just to hear what students think about the system in general," said Baek. "It is all about student initiative. Change in the culture of the College must come from the student body."
BSG holds no official position on the issue of chem-free housing and BSG President John Connolly '11 weighed in on the importance of hearing student opinion on the matter.
"The idea is to get a frank, open discussion about chem-free housing," said Connolly. "What works, what doesn't work [and] what we need to change. We don't have any policy on the table, but we want to get input from the stakeholders in this issue—the students."
Sasha Mastroianni '13, who lived on the chem-free floor of Coleman Hall as a first year, spoke about the downfalls of a dorm split between chem-free and regular floors.
"I felt like a lot of the other dorms had a lot of dorm unity, but in Coleman I felt there was such a divide between the [chem-free basement and chem upper] floors," said Mastroianni. "People assumed that people in the basement didn't want to interact with people who drank."
Anirudh Sreekrishnan '12, who is currently a proctor living in Hyde Hall, discussed the common stereotype that students who choose to live chem-free during their first year are uncool. He added that the stigma may persist, even when students move out of chem-free housing as upperclassmen.
"It is something that follows you for years to come" said Sreekrishnan. "Last year when I was an [resident adviser], my kids found out that I had lived in chem-free housing during my [first year] and they said, 'What? You're so cool, you lived chem-free?'"
As the discussion progressed, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster introduced the question of necessity of chem-free housing.
Amanda Nguyen '11 argued for the continuation of chem-free housing in order to create an environment for students who may have reasons to feel unsafe around alcohol.
"It is special interest," said Nguyen. "But it's not special interest in the same way as what kind of music you listen to; it's a safety issue."
While most agreed that chem-free housing was a necessary policy, there was no shortage of suggestions about how to improve the system. Many concluded that chem-free floors and rooms needed to be more integrated into the housing system, with some suggesting that one floor of each first year dorm be chem-free.
Another consensus issue among the group was the need to reduce the stigma of the chem-free option.
"Just don't tell the whole campus which floors are chem-free," said Sreekrishnan.
Finally, the group discussed ways to implement change within the chem-free system. Foster encouraged students to come forward with ideas and to work with administrators toward improvement.
"There are a great group of students in this room that are involved in all different things on campus including ResLife and Bowdoin Student Government," said Foster. "These types of discussions are really important because this is where change is proposed."