This is part two in a series about special interest and theme housing at Tufts. If you missed part one about the Green House at Tufts, you can find that post here.
In part one of this series about special interest and theme housing at Tufts, we heard from Marilene as they shared their experiences creating and living in the Green House. In this post, we’ll meet Mindy, a current sophomore at Tufts who lived in Wilson House, Tufts’ substance-free residence for first years, and is now helping organize a substance-free theme house for upperclassmen. During our conversation, I asked Mindy about her experiences in Wilson, hopes for the new substance-free house at Tufts, and what it’s like to live substance-free in college. Enjoy!
What led you (and other students) to Wilson House in the first place?
[Students] have to fill out an application in order to live in substance-free housing. Personally, I enjoy focusing on academics and doing things other than going to parties on weekends. I was drawn to Wilson House as a small community – about 40 people can live there, and it feels really homey. In my year, there were about 35 residents, and this year there are only 20, so it is a very small, tight-knit community. Everyone gets really close, and we find things to do other than drink: on a Friday night, we might order IHOP or Chinese food and just stay in, play card games…there is also a ping pong table in the basement, a piano in the common room, and study spaces around the dorm.
Other people have lived in Wilson who are in recovery, so they are on the path to being sober. If they live in Wilson, they have to commit to being substance-free, and from what I’ve heard, it's very helpful to be in that environment—nobody around you is drinking, so there's not really the urge to do so. We are trying to connect Wilson and the Haven, Tufts’ recovery house. Currently, they are very separate, but students are welcome in either space, and there are definitely efforts being made to connect the two more.
What inspired you and your friends to create a substance-free theme house?
After my first year, I was really close to all the people in Wilson House and we wanted to stick together, but since Wilson is just for freshmen, there wasn't really a place for us to go in sophomore year to live that substance-free life. So we stuck together in a suite in Hillsides, and we are still really passionate about living together and continuing the friendships and the connections that we built in Wilson. There is a group of about seven or eight of us that are committed to being substance-free, and we thought, “why don’t we just make a theme house?” So we got together, submitted the application, and it was approved.
Is there a stigma associated with being involved in substance-free living at Tufts?
I feel like I expected there to be more of a stigma around not drinking in college, but being in an environment where everyone around you also feels the same way, I never really experienced that. Other people on campus seem to be very respectful, too. Instead of there being a stigma associated with Wilson, most people don’t know what it is. Once you explain it and cast it in the positive light of the fun community that it is, a lot of people have a very positive reaction. We don't look down upon people who drink—it's just a personal choice.
How do you see the substance-free house engaging with the wider Tufts community?
We definitely want to connect with the people who are going to be living in Wilson next year and hope that they will be excited about continuing this lifestyle and their friendships past the end of the year. We will be advertising the [new theme house’s] events to everyone in the Tufts community, and anyone who wants to come is welcome. They definitely do not have to be committed to substance-free living. If they make the choice on our night to attend our event instead of something else, they are completely welcome. We are glad to see new people and new faces and spread the word that we are not boring just because we don't drink—we have fun, too! A lot of us like cooking, so we are hoping to do cook nights or host events that you would picture being very full of substances or alcohol, but do them in a way that does not include that, and make them just as fun to show people that it's not really necessary to have a good time.
I've been having conversations with people from Residential Life and the Haven as well on how to connect those communities. There is a big disconnect between people who choose to be substance-free and those who are in recovery, so we're still trying to figure out how to merge those two together. But we definitely aim our events at the Haven as well to let them know that want to engage with them and get to know them. Everyone is welcome at our events, even more so if this is a space that is going to be helpful for them in whatever they're going through—we're in support of that.
What was the process of applying to create a theme house like?
At least this year—I am not sure if it is different in different years—we had to have a roster of who wanted to live in the house and applied in the beginning of December. It is just an online form: you answer some questions about why you think the house would be a valuable addition to the campus, what your plans are for the house, why you want to live there, and how having the space would be beneficial to your cause. We also needed to find a house advisor, who can be any faculty member—ours is a staff member in the health services department. The houses in CoHo range from six to 12 people, so we applied with six, and then afterwards we added one person, and another is considering living there, so we might be up to eight.
I would say it was a very simple process, and a lot of people don't know about it. I would guess that there are a lot of groups of friends who share a passion that could be beneficial to the Tufts community, so I encourage people to apply if they have a group of friends with a shared passion.
Do you have any advice to prospective students about substance-free living at Tufts?
My first piece of advice is to do what you are comfortable with. Don't let the pressure of college motivate you to do something you don't want to do—find people who support you in whatever choice you make! It can sometimes feel like a bubble, but I definitely have friends outside of Wilson—it's important to reach out and meet new people.
Second, if you are at all curious about a substance-free life, apply to live in Wilson! I haven't met anyone who has regretted that decision. It is really a great community and it's also really unique. It is not a traditional college experience, since most first-year residences have hundreds of people, but if you want that smaller community, go for it! If you are not looking for the traditional large residence hall experience, then Wilson is definitely the way to go, and everyone will support you!