Theme IV: Living Without _____ | Substances

by Ilana Ladis

According to NYU’s website, Choices communities are “residential living communities where residents choose to be substance-free.” There are three such communities located in Third North, Rubin, and Coral Towers Residence Halls. We visited one floor. 

Nicole Bernardo, a freshman in CAS, greeted me with a smile in the courtyard of Third North Residence Hall. By coincidence, we had both worn burnt orange that day. A Freudian slip, perhaps?

We rode up to the thirteenth floor of Third North’s East Tower where Bernardo lives with ten other girls in a Choices community. Walking in, I found the floor was dominated by two large apartments in a “loft”-style residence. Five or six bedrooms shared by two girls in each loft. Eleven girls total. The lack of guys in the Third North Choices community was purely coincidencidental.

The bulletin boards in the hall had the same posters for the same campus-wide events, fire safety policies, and guest policies. The countertops were clean and clutter-free. The refrigerator held a snack chart indicating whose turn it was to purchase snacks for the loft. Fresh flowers were placed on the kitchen table.

But unlike my rambunctious row of students in Weinstein, the Choices floor didn’t seem to have the camaraderie of a freshman college dorm. It was quiet, more like an apartment complex.

The girls on the floor had signed a contract at the beginning of the year, Bernardo said, promising that there would be no smoking or drugs on the floor. In return, they were all promised the security of a drug-free environment.

I peeked into each room of the eleven girls. Every girl was studying and doing homework, all seemingly on schedule.

I remembered the girls couldn’t simply choose to live here; they had to apply as well.

Lila Faria, a freshman in the Gallatin and another resident, said she had had doubts about living the Choices community. Though safe, it might be a block on her college experience. But when she arrived, she felt at home.

“The people here are all very accepting and kind, and the Substance-Free aspect of the floor allows it to be a quiet haven, separated from the rest of NYU,” said Faria. “It’s nice to have a loft space where I can come home to, where parties aren’t held because of the strict no-alcohol policies and the air is clean.”

I felt that I was disrupting the “chi” of the space touring the floor with Bernardo and asking her questions. She was from Sugarland, Texas and aspired to be an English and American Literature major in the College of Arts and Sciences. I complimented her bedroom’s stellar view and meticulous cleanliness. For her, the choice to live here wasn’t a renunciation of any habits, but a continuation of a lifestyle.

“I’ve never smoked or drank or anything and taking drugs is just not part of my lifestyle,” Bernardo said. “I knew if I was on a Choices floor it would be better for me because I know my roommates wouldn’t be doing those things. And I wouldn’t have to worry about holding their head over the toilet, or worry about them coming in at 7 a.m. completely trashed from a party.”

It became clear to me why people chose to live on Choices floors: it was less about the self, and more about other people. Bernardo told me her friends felt the same, that most didn’t want a roommate who would disrupt their environment. This was their choice, not someone else’s.

“As far as I know they’ve all chosen to be here. It wasn’t their parents forcing them to do it,” Bernardo said.

But the floor isn’t filled with red crossouts and safety posters advertising a drug-free zone. Like any other freshman residence hall, the Choices community has fun events. Their Resident Assistant plans outings for them to the highline and to dinners.

“We don’t usually tell people it’s a Choices floor,” said Bernardo. “We don’t want people to feel like they have to behave differently here.”

They had a meet-and-greet with the Choices communities in Rubin and Coral Towers. It had been nice to meet other people who shared the same values as them.

Considering the pressure many college students feel to drink, the Choices communities provide a no-judgement zone to refuse engaging in drugs, alcohol or cigarettes. But not everyone adheres to the rules.

“Recently one of my suitemates was concerned her roommate was smoking,” Bernardo said. “She asked our RA if she could do something about it, but the RA told her, technically, it wasn’t against the rules because she smoked outside.”

In other words, a loophole: do the rules in the contract only apply in the suite?

“I, along with all my suitemates, had to promise to not consume alcohol or use drugs in my loft space or on my floor,” she said. “Whatever I or my suitemates do outside of our floorspace is our problem; we are free to do whatever we want. We just can’t take it home.”

But does coming home with smelling of booze and smoke count?

“I don’t really think the policy is strict; rather it’s a loose promise that you will adhere to a substance-free lifestyle,” said Bernardo. “None of us really know how strict the rules are.”

The group, said Faria, doesn’t feel like they’re missing out by abstaining. Most of Faria’s time goes into activities other than drinking, she said. She and her suitemates are able to get more out of New York City, not less.

When I asked Bernardo if she’d be interested in living in an upperclassmen Choices community next year, it wasn’t an immediate yes though.

“It’s too soon to tell.”

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