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“Sub-Free” Housing creators win national award

Four Lehigh students were recently named recipients of the 2006-2007 Excellence in Student Leadership Award from Outside the Classroom, the developers of the online alcohol abuse prevention program AlcoholEdu.

The award honored Nicholas A. Gava ’09, Anthony Bisconti III ’09, Glenn Laverty ’09, and Paul Berruti ’09, for creating the Substance-Free Housing Community—an alcohol, cigarette, and drug-free upperclassmen housing community, also called “Sub-Free.”

The students are “incredibly committed, organized, and ready to take action,” says Madalyn Eadline, Director of Special Projects at Lehigh and the advisor on the substance-free housing project. “They addressed every challenge with intelligence, diligence, and determination. If it wasn’t for them, there would be no substance-free (housing) to talk about.”

The Excellence in Student Leadership Award recognizes students who have “distinguished themselves as leaders in alcohol prevention efforts and positively influenced campus culture.”

“Nicholas, Anthony, Glenn, and Paul’s determination to create a viable and long-lasting substance-free housing community at Lehigh University exemplifies their commitment to alcohol prevention and education,” the award notification said. “Furthermore, the existence of this special housing opportunity is a testament of (Lehigh’s) investment in creating optimal conditions in which students can learn.”

Prior to this year, Outside the Classroom only recognized individuals. However, Brandon Busteed, the C.E.O. of Outside the Classroom, encouraged Eadline to nominate the quartet of Lehigh students anyway.

When the students learned that they received the award, they were surprised and pleased. Receiving the award is “really cool, unexpected, and sweet,” Gava says.

“Sub-free” is one of several themed housing groups introduced this year. These student-generated communities allow students with similar values and vision for the university to live together. Unlike other housing on campus, second-year students will not be separated from juniors and seniors.

Originally, substance-free housing was sponsored by the university for upper and lower classmen alike, but substance-free housing for junior and senior students has been phased out, says Christina Bell, Associate Director of Residential Services. First-year and second-year students who are required to live on-campus can live in substance-free halls, but juniors and seniors cannot. Instead, they can declare their apartments substance-free.

New name, same aim

Next year, the current university-run substance-free program, renamed Choosing Healthy Options in Community Environments (C.H.O.I.C.E.), will exist only for first-year and second-year students.

As they looked toward their junior year, Gava, Bisconti, Berruti, and Laverty realized that declaring their room to be free of alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes was not sufficient. They wanted to maintain the community they developed by living with like-minded people.

The students petitioned for a substance-free community that included second-year students—as well as juniors and seniors—and drafted a proposal describing their ideal living space for next year, and three weeks later, the Office of Residence Life invited the students to participate in its new Upper Class Experience Residential Communities application process.

Although they operate under a staff or faculty adviser, students in themed housing groups are responsible for applying for housing, organizing events, and regulating their community. “We wrote our own rule book,” Laverty says.

The students’ vision for next year involves not only the more than 115 students in the community, but the entire university. They want to promote social activities that do not involve alcohol and encourage safer, responsible drinking for those who do imbibe.

“Our main goal is to show that you can have fun without alcohol,” Bisconti says.

In August, most of their members will move into Brodhead House the Wednesday before freshmen orientation. They will assist with freshman move-in and are working with other campus groups to plan non-alcoholic events for incoming students.

The students in Sub-Free will also reach out to freshmen already dedicated to a substance-free lifestyle. During the first week of class, Sub-Free will host a barbeque for students in C.H.O.I.C.E.

“Even if they don’t join us, they will know it’s an option,” Gava says.

--Becky Straw

Posted on Friday, July 27, 2007

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