Christian Diaz, Staff Writer (cdiaz@wwc)
Students have been expressing mixed feelings about the changes in substance-use culture at Warren Wilson and the implications of these changes on student life.
An Action Plan, written collaboratively by students, faculty and staff during the previous academic year, includes the promotion of wellness on campus as one of its top priorities.
The Office of Student Life expects the school’s role in mediating wellness to “advocate health, safety, personal responsibility, and wellness on campus.” However, those students who engage in substance use and those who do not both question the strategic focus and methods chosen to direct students to a healthier lifestyle.
Student Life has initiated strategic efforts to support wellness. The new Substance Use Peer Education & Resources (SUPER) Crew, which “raises awareness, educates, and advocates around substance use and related health issues,” has been employed as a force to promote wellness throughout campus. Some still wonder if these efforts address campus wellness properly; although the SUPER Crew is undergoing a trial period this year, it has elicited a strong response from students – a response which is often negative.
Wilson Hall, a 19-year-old foreign exchange student from Ireland, earned the equivalent of an associate degree in youth work with a focus on alcohol, drug and tobacco use education. Hall was deliberately placed on the SUPER Crew because of his experience in advocating for wellness through education in Ireland, where the legal drinking age is 18. Working on the SUPER Crew has not helped him make friends at Warren Wilson.
“I feel like the crew is making me unpopular,” said Hall. “I was at Sage Café one night and someone came up to me and started talking to me and asked me what crew I was on. I said, ‘SUPER Crew,’ and our conversation stopped dead. They asked, ‘the stupid crew?’ I said, ‘No, SUPER Crew,’ and they just said ‘stupid crew’ [and] walked away.”
Hall believes that substance use is a problem on campus because underage drinking occurs and that there might be more effective ways to address the issue.
“I think there are grounds for education but I don’t see that there needs to be a crew dedicated to it,” said Hall. “It [is] one of those things that should be included during student orientation. This is really just a trial run of the SUPER Crew; we’ll see how it goes this year.”
SUPER Crew consists of four students and Supervisor Phillip Wiltzius, area coordinator of the Ballfield dorms.
There are students on campus who are unsure of what SUPER Crew does, and many question its significance. Senior Max Hunt, an advocate of responsible and legal substance use, spoke to The Echo.
“I don’t see much of what SUPER Crew does,” Hunt said. “I thought, between Wellness and RISE and Empower and crews who took substance use into their sphere of influence and mission, did a fairly good job of educating people. The information SUPER Crew gives us is kind of redundant.”
But Deborah Myers, dean of student life, disagrees, maintaining that there needs to be more support for students who have chosen to live substance-free or who are making that transition.
“I have had students who choose not to use [substances] tell me that Warren Wilson can be a difficult environment for them,” Myers said. “The SUPER Crew is responsible for providing education and support for students. I believe that any education is valuable, especially in a college setting. While not all students appreciate the work of the crew, it is a valuable source of support for other students.”
While students unanimously advocate for education, many feel that the college’s efforts have been overwhelmingly one-sided. An anonymous group of students, the self-declared “Superior Crew,” has been particularly up-front, setting up exhibitions informing students of the positive effects of substances.
“Superior Crew is purely reactionary and in this way irresponsible and irrelevant. Superior Crew thinks it is cool to be mysterious and radical about unimportant things,” said an anonymous source connected to the Superior Crew. Despite the nonchalant attitude, the exhibitions – one of which featured portraits of admired figures, such as Albert Einstein and Frank Zappa, smoking – provide an amusing critique of the school’s biased efforts to curb substance use.
“The SUPERIOR Crew is basically saying, ‘Here’s our voice,’” said Hunt. “This is a voice that [the college has not] asked about. It’s kind of a half-serious challenge. People have chosen to smoke and drink – responsible and intelligent adults – for a long time.”
Efforts, aside from the work of the SUPER CREW, are being made to ground party culture. This includes the introduction of area coordinators throughout campus to “help enforce policy.”
The school, according to several students, fails to take into account a greater problem linked to substance use, particularly the smoking of tobacco. Students feel that there are too few opportunities and settings for students to gather and socialize. This problem has only been exacerbated by school policy, which makes it more difficult for parties to be organized. The introduction of party contracts and limits on the number of occupants allowed in rooms aggravate the problem of socializing further.
Many feel that smoking provides an opportunity to meet other students and is an incentive to hang out by the smoking tents.
“It makes people who didn’t smoke, smoke. The smoking huts out there are mainly for socializing,” said Hall.
Student Life acknowledges this concern.
“There has been a great deal of discussion about the need to increase space for students to socialize,” said Myers. “This year Student Life is engaging in a needs assessment of student space in order to develop strategies increasing access for student socializing and community building.”
Another problem brought to Student Life is the lack of safe public spaces for of-age students to convene.
“There aren’t enough places for people to gather and be open,” said Hunt. “What the school’s policies advocate is drinking alone in your room at night, which doesn’t sound healthy. They’re encouraging anti-social behavior. That’s what makes people alcoholics.”
There has also been talk of a little-known aspect of the Warren Wilson insurance policy, which would allow a pub on campus.
“A pub or bar is something that could be explored,” said Myers. “I’m not sure to what extent this has happened in the past. If such a place were established it would need to be in sync with county, state and federal laws. The college would need to ensure that appropriate risk management practices were in place.”
Ultimately, all parties agree on the importance of dialogue and education addressing substance use. If the school is to reach a place where the community members feel safe, regardless of their lifestyle choices, it will come about through collective effort. Warren Wilson has been perceived as less festive by many students who feel that, due to policy, social life is no longer what it once was: a setting for people who work and play hard.
“If they gave us the chance to be responsible,” said Hunt, “then I don’t think they’d be let down. The true spirit of a self-governing body is being able to talk to each other about things.”