Barnard Residents Sidestep Substance Abuse


Rachel Grossman

Members of And What?! bust a sober move as they lead a dance workshop in the basement of South Hall. A part of Alcohol Awareness Week, this workshop was one of many detailing the dangers of substance abuse.

This week marks Oberlin’s annual Alcohol Awareness Week. Over the past few days, several events around campus have examined the role that alcohol plays in both social and academic life and the abuse that sometimes accompanies it. The events this week were designed to open a dialogue about the effects these substances can have.

The residents of Barnard Hall comprise a part of this dialogue. Located next to East Hall and across from Stevenson Dining Hall, these 40 students have chosen to live in a space designated as “substance-free.” The residents of the space picked Barnard for a variety of different reasons: location, the quiet atmosphere, a smaller community. But they all share the same basic commitment to keep their living space free of alcohol and other substances.

The RA of Barnard, College sophomore Scott Hulver, shared his view of the space and its goals:

“Most of the events I organize focus on building community and allowing my residents the opportunity to just get to know each other and have fun,” said Hulver.

“I think that although being substance-free is an important part of this dorm, it’s the people who live here and the interactions we have that makes this community so great. I don’t want the absence of alcohol or drugs to inhibit the dorm experience of my residents, so events and programs where people can have a good time without substances are, in my opinion, the most important.”

Paul Anderson, a College senior, is currently spending his sixth semester in Barnard. He chose Barnard initially because of what he had experienced and heard about Oberlin. Yet he has chosen to stay there because he values the people and appreciates the location.

“I chose substance-free because of the combination of when I went to visit schools [and] the amount of cigarette smoking I saw there, and the reputation of Oberlin I started hearing in the months before I came here, [these reasons] led me to believe that some dorms may have more substance usage than I would have liked. I have no problems with other people [using substances], but I guess I wanted to find some other people that wanted to do stuff that wasn’t going to parties. I like the atmosphere; the people I hang out with tend to stay around here. It’s a very quiet dorm, and it’s actually perfect in terms of location.”

Stephanie Atwood, a Double Degree sophomore, chose the dorm for a similar reason.

“Substances aren’t really a big part of my life, and I find that substance-free housing tends to be quieter, less rambunctious [and] the bathrooms aren’t as gross. It is just a nice place to be. Everyone is very independent.”

This independence is something that many students noted as an attribute of Barnard, although a few also mentioned that this meant the dorm events are not very well attended, since the residents tend to keep to themselves.

“There are a lot of independent people,” Rebecca Debus, a College first-year resident, said. “I have formed a pretty close friend group with the freshmen, and we tend to go to most of the stuff that [our RA] puts on, but a lot of the upperclassmen don’t.”

However, despite the dorm “not being the friendliest dorm,” she plans to live in Barnard next year as well.

Many students in Barnard harbor strong opinions about the drinking culture at Oberlin. Conrad Sheridan, a Conservatory first-year, said, “I think it’s abuse and I don’t think that’s how alcohol should be used.”

“I don’t think alcohol is something that should be used to excess,” he added. “I have no inherent problem with alcohol, and I would probably participate in a drinking culture that was a glass of wine at dinner with friends, but I don’t think that’s what people do here.”

He mentioned that some of the people in the dorm seemed uptight, but that this was almost a product of the living experience.

However, other residents seem uncomfortable with such statements. Working against the perception that they were judgmental about substance abuse, several residents clarified that, while they personally choose not to engage in substance use, they do not condemn those who did. Like College first-year Oliver Okun.

“It’s not hard to find substances if I wanted them, but I just didn’t want to be in an environment where it was sort of like a necessity … I want to respect everyone’s decisions. I’m not going to tell people how to live,” he said. “It’s a different priority system. Some people it’s their priority to party. And that’s just not my priority.”