The establishment of Freeborn Hall's Substance Free Living Environment (Fall, 1994) marked the end of a long bureaucratic journey that began in the Fall of 1992. I was flying from Seattle back to Berkeley after watching the Huskies thoroughly trounce the Cal Bears on the grid iron when my thoughts drifted to my new position (Residential Life Coordinator of Unit One), the community, and the greater Berkeley population. In the few short months that I had been in my position, I noticed three things about the student population: 1) Students coming to Cal seemed focused on experimentation, 2) there was a considerable amount of alcohol abuse (as with most campuses across the country), yet 3) a sizable number of students who have already made a decision to lead substance free lifestyle were living in my buildings. It was these students who would complain about having to step over the vomit in the bathroom over the weekends. Other common laments were of the constant smell of smoke permeating the floors and the sincere shortage of fun, substance free events. The germ of an idea popped into my head. What if we created a entire building dedicated to students who agreed to live substance free life? The idea was sound, but the several questions remained. Would students live there? How does one establish a new environment on the Berkeley Campus?
To pursue the first, I established the Substance Free Environment Task Force and two students promptly joined. Gbenga Ajilore and Ronal Bhagat instantly became committed and to the project. Without their assistance, the project may have never gotten off the ground. After conducting a survey of two living areas on campus, we found that over 300 people were interested in just such an environment. This served as a catalyst and energized the Task Force.
The three of use set forth to create the proposal for consideration by the Housing Department brass. It took three or so months of meeting weekly, writing, and re-writing before we came up with a solid plan. The final draft was sent out to many luminaries. The drafts came back riddled with feedback. We then set down to re-draft the proposal and polish it up for final approval. Several key decisions were made including location, whether or not to include an essay in the application and ensuring the verbiage of the contract was grounded legally. In the spring of 1993, the final proposal was submitted to the Tom Vani, then director of our department. It immediately came back with the green light.
A short word on the location. Some have suggested that we chose Freeborn Hall because of it's name. Quite the contrary. Simply put, it was a matter of logistics. There are four buildings in Unit One and each had something unique to offer its community except Freeborn. Although "Substance Freeborn" is a catchy, it was never the intention to place the SFE for the sake of a slogan.
The work of the task force was interrupted by summer and we reconvened in the Fall of 1993. Two new members (Librado Guerrero & Steven Canon) joined the core members to expand the group. Our next goal was to integrate the SFE into ever piece of literature and institutionalize the selection process. Fusing all aspects of the environment into existing procedures proved to be a prodigious effort. Sparing you the details, making Freeborn Hall exist took cooperation among all levels of the Housing Department. We were ready to run with it in the Spring 1994.
Selection of the Hall Staff was the primary goal. Next, Room Draw (allowing returning students to select into the community) and then finally acceptance of new students into the program were the other top goals. At the close of the Spring semester of 1994 the Task Force completed its work with approximately 40 % of the population filled with returning students and the rest reserved for incoming students. At the close of the assignments process, Freeborn's 228 beds were allocated with over 100 other students placed on a waiting list. After two years of hard work, the entire Department was prepped and ready to open Berkeley's first Substance Free Living Environment at the outset of the Fall 1994 Semester.
The first year of the environment exceeded all expectations. The students loved the community and all statistics pointed toward the same result. Conduct was down and essentially non-existent. The staff (Dana Wagner (HC), Justin Remais (RA), Quirina Orozco (RA), Jeff Thompsen (RA), Corina Monzon (RA), Audrey Mimoto (SC)) were committed to taking the SFE to next level. Substance free activities were plentiful and resident turn out was tremendous. The mid-year survey yielded supporting statistics. 82% of students selected voluntarily to live in the SFE. That left 18% either forced by parents or other reasons not voluntarily residing in Freeborn. Interestingly, 89% indicated that living in the SFE was a positive experience. This means that even folks who did not self select into the environment were satisfied with the experience. 100% of the respondents indicated that they did not feel pressure to use substances. This is perhaps the most revealing statistic.
It is apparent that UC-Berkeley is ever under the media microscope. The Task Force wanted to get the word out, but had no idea that the ensuing interest would be so large. One short press release filed with the University's Public Relations Office yielded an all out media blitz. News about the SFE was published locally, Nationally, and Internationally. I was interviewed on television, radio talk shows and by the BBC. Television crews (including ABC National News) came to Freeborn and interviews of our residents were broadcast across the country. If you add up all the sound bites, I am sure that we have more than used up our 15 minutes of fame.
Currently, this 1995/96 staff (Corina Monzon (HC), Steve Ayers (RA), Carlene Pengra (RA), Justin Remais (RA), Veronica Melvin (RA), Audrey Mimoto (SC)) is equally committed to the community. Results from this year's survey is still being tabulated and I anticipate similar results. Feel free to surf this Web page to get information of current happenings in the Hall.
It is without a doubt that Freeborn Hall has been successful in achieving its mission. The residents thoroughly enjoy living in a substance free environment. A dream had been realized. A college president once said that the key to a successful tenure and keep students happy was to make sure they have access to beer. Freeborn Hall residents have demonstrated that college students don't need to use substances in order to have a quality collegiate experience. In fact, eliminating the use of substances can increase the quality of their education.
If you happen to be in the Berkeley neighborhood, feel free to look us up. I am sure that the students and Staff in Freeborn Hall would be happy to talk with you about their experience.
Aaron Anderson, former Residential Life Coordinator of the Unit One Residence Halls
and Founder of the Substance Free Environment at Freeborn Hall