New substance-free theme house for upperclassmen to be established in fall 2021

22 Bellevue St, one of the houses designated for "CoHo" living, is pictured on Feb 11, 2019. Sara Renkert / The Tufts Daily

A new substance-free house for upperclassmen will open on campus in the fall of 2021. This house was created through the “create your own theme house” program, which provides an opportunity for students to apply for a house based on common interests or passions.

The create your own theme house program launched in 2019 as an addition to the Office of Residential Life and Learning’s special interest housing. The first house created through the program was the Green House, a sustainability-focused house. This year, a substance-free house for upperclassmen was chosen.

Su McGlone, director of fraternity and sorority life, wrote in an email to the Daily about the original mission of the create your own theme house program.

“We created it as an opportunity to keep the theme/special interest house program dynamic and fluid and to give students an opportunity to create a program for themselves that is of importance to them,” McGlone said.

McGlone also described the timeline of the application process as well as the requirements for applicants. 

“Students are able to apply for a house for the following year during the regular theme/special interest house application timeline … [which] is usually a little bit before the regular housing lottery,” McGlone said. “[Applicants] fill out an application which includes the purpose and mission of the house, ways they hope to enhance their mission by living together, and also attach a roster and provide a staff or faculty advisor contact information.”

The mission of the upperclassman substance-free house is to remove the stigma around substance-free living and provide a substance-free housing option for older students once they leave the first-year substance-free dorm, Wilson House, according to the house application.

Mindy Duggan, a sophomore, spearheaded the upperclassman substance-free house application. Duggan described her positive experience living in Wilson House.

“I lived in Wilson House when I was a freshman, and it was such an incredible experience,” Duggan said. “[Wilson House] is a really tight-knit community, and everyone relates to each other in the sense that they don’t want to go and party on Friday or Saturday nights, they’d rather stay in.”

After freshman year, Duggan and her friends were disappointed that they could not return to Wilson House and tried to create their own substance-free suite in Hillsides. 

“We did end up making a suite in Hillsides and our suite was substance free, but that didn’t work out for a lot of reasons,” Duggan said. “The people around us were not very accommodating and it was very loud and we were just not used to it.”

Applying for a theme house provided a solution that would allow Duggan and her friends to guarantee a shared living space built around a shared interest in substance-free living.

“A group of my friends and I applied with a substance-free theme, hoping that this will be a launching point to allowing sophomores to also live in the theme house with us,” Duggan said. “[This will create] a continuous experience throughout the college years, but that’s something for the future — right now it’s only for juniors and seniors.”

Marc Wolf, a sophomore, described why he is planning on living in the substance-free theme house.

“My freshman year, I was living in Wilson House … and it was a really good experience,” Wolf said. “[Wilson House residents] still stayed in touch and Mindy Duggan brought up the idea that we take that magic from freshman year and bring that into a themed [Community Housing option], and that’s when I got involved.”

Duggan also emphasized that the upperclassman substance-free house was not created in response to judgement from students who may not share the same belief in substance-free living. Duggan said she rarely faces judgement from fellow Tufts students, whether they live a substance-free life or not.

“[Tufts] is actually a really accepting campus, as far as I’ve seen … I have not personally been to any of the parties or bigger events where drinking does happen so I can’t speak to whether or not there is that pressure,” Duggan said. “But at least among my friends that are not from Wilson, if they invite me somewhere, there’s no pressure for me to [use substances]; they’re really understanding.”

Another requirement of the create your own theme house program is that the house must host events that further the theme house’s mission. Duggan described plans for creating events that would be substance free and based on common college activities that may traditionally have substances.

“We were thinking of doing a substance-free dance,” Duggan said. “You have everyone dress up and we have a backyard so we could do it outside.”

According to the substance-free house’s application, they plan to host events on historically high substance-use days like Homecoming, Halloween and Spring Fling. The application also said that the house wants to host cookouts or other activities, partially subject to what COVID-19 restrictions look like next fall. Duggan said they will aim to do virtual events if necessary.

Wolf expanded on the intentions behind the theme house’s plans for substance-free parties and other events.

“If there are people who want to have a good time and not be around [drugs or alcohol], we’re going to be an outlet for those people,” Wolf said.