Cutting sub-free floors raises questions of enforcement
Most students are not particularly opposed to the fact that Wash. U. has one of the most lenient alcohol policies of any national university—one in which you are actually encouraged to let your residential advisors see you drink to make sure you do it safely. Of course, the legal drinking age in Missouri is 21, but as you can hear tour guides across campus awkwardly articulate, Wash. U. trusts us to behave as adults and make responsible decisions when it comes to our own consumption. But as at most other schools, Wash. U. has always offered substance-free floors for students who want an alcohol-free living space. This coming fall, sub-free floors will be eliminated in favor of individual sub-free suites on otherwise normal floors. This decision may be considered a way to integrate students who may have been socially ostracized from their peers in the past, but it will be difficult to enforce and may ultimately cause more harm than good.
While doing away with sub-free floors in favor of sub-free suites dispersed throughout each residential college may philosophically integrate those students with their non-sub-free peers, it takes away the opportunity for floors to bond through activities completely distinct from alcohol. While drinking and socialization are certainly not mutually exclusive, drinking is a major part of many Wash. U. students’ freshman experience. Those who are opposed to alcohol for religious or personal reasons have a right to insulate themselves from that culture, and the walls in most South 40 dorms are far from soundproof. Every year, there is a significant demand for sub-free housing. Over the years, Residential Life has added more sub-free floors to accommodate students who want that option.
That being said, there are benefits to getting rid of sub-free floors. Many students are forced onto sub-free floors by their parents or by chance in housing assignments and find themselves in a living arrangement that precludes them from taking part in some of the more relatable experiences of freshman year. Students are not allowed to return to sub-free dorms intoxicated, which can pose a major problem for students who live on the floors and do choose to drink.
Ultimately, the responsibility of enforcing the new sub-free suites will fall upon RAs. And this gives rise to a host of potential issues. Though it is currently against ResLife policy to return to a sub-free floor intoxicated, this rule could not effectively continue under the new system, which would effectively strip sub-free of one of its primary purposes—to allow students a living environment free from the many distractions that can be caused by alcohol. And while drinking in a freshman suite is generally acceptable if it does not violate the ResLife’s alcohol enforcement policy, drinking in a sub-free suite can result in suspension from Wash. U. Intermixing sub-free and non-sub-free suites poses a major enforcement challenge for RAs, who will now be expected to enforce different rules on potentially neighboring rooms. And short of marking sub-free suites with a sign—which would serve only to further stigmatize sub-free students more than they currently are—it’s difficult to imagine the system working in practice.
While eliminating sub-free floors offers a potential solution to the potential ostracism of sub-free students, it is a solution at least as broken as the current system. And although it may be too late to go about reversing the change for the fall, it should at the very least be reevaluated and reconsidered next spring.