College students getting living-environment choice Dorm options include academics, alcohol ban

September 11, 1998|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Towson University roommates Sara Meyer and Sarah Disney like having a good time as much as any college students. They just don't want to party in their dorm.

So the freshmen chose an honors dormitory, joining a growing number of students around the country who choose to live on campus in a variety of special settings, such as those stressing academics and community service or ones that ban alcohol and smoking.

"I like to have fun, but it distracts me from my work. I need peace and quiet," said Meyer, 18, of Frederick, ducking into the crowded sixth-floor walk-up she shares with Disney, 17, of Towson, and two other women in the newly renovated Richmond Hall. "Everywhere else, I heard there were really bad parties."

Binge drinking and smoking may be prevalent among college students these days, but, increasingly many are looking for lodging that prohibits those activities. College officials are scrambling to keep up with the demand for such housing.

"It is growing," said Gary Schwarzmueller, executive director of the Association of College and University Housing Officers International in Columbus, Ohio. "More and more alternatives are being offered."

At Goucher College, students can immerse themselves in languages, speaking only Spanish, Russian or French on their respective floors. At Loyola College, upperclassmen can choose floors emphasizing holistic well-being, and all students can choose options such as substance-free rooms.

And at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, students can sign up for "quiet" apartments as well as single-sex floors and smoking-allowed areas.

"It gives a shared experience to those with similar lifestyles," said Jerry Dieringer, director of housing and resident life at Towson University. "This gives them some control over their environment."

Towson -- where dorms are filled to capacity with 3,350 students living on campus -- provides a range of opportunities for students, from alcohol-free to international floors. Last spring, Elyse Retting, then a sophomore, waited in line for several hours to get one of the no-alcohol spots at the university, which allows drinking in regular dorm rooms for those 21 and older.

Joining 250 other students, friends Dave Honigs and Ben Horsch, both 18 and of Hagerstown, also sought a room on one of Towson's nine no-booze floors dispersed throughout the campus.

"I don't drink, and don't like to be around people who do," said Honigs, who wears a dog-style choker and several earrings. "It's not the kind of thing I need to be around. I've explored that lifestyle. It got old fast."

For the first time, the university also is providing eight floors of smoke-free living scattered among its 11 residence halls. "We underestimated the need," Dieringer said of the number of requests.

Yael Yeheskeli, 18, of North Potomac jumped at the opportunity.

"I can't stand the smell of smoke," said the exuberant freshman ** as she ran through the smoke-free third floor of Tower B recently. "It sticks to everything. Ick."

This semester, the Johns Hopkins University also initiated nonsmoking quarters in a pilot program for 25 students.

"We started out with a small number to give it an opportunity for success," said Carol Mohr, director of housing. "We're looking forward to seeing how this works out."

Typically, students sign a contract agreeing to honor the living arrangements. They hold periodic floor meetings to discuss the rules. Signs on doorways stress such bans as no smoking or alcohol.

In addition to substance-free housing, Western Maryland College has seen a growing demand for community-service living in which students share a commitment to volunteering, said Don Schumaker, associate director of public information at the Westminster school.

For example, a group of male students, calling itself Sense of Pride, provides mentorship and tutoring to area middle-schoolers. Another organization, Helping Our Sisters, works in women's shelters.

By living together, students can plan their goals more easily, Schumaker said.

"With group housing, it gives students an opportunity to meet at 10 p.m. if they need to," he said. "They don't have to go across campus to meet."

Pub Date: 9/11/98

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