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Dormitory Offers a Clean, Sober Option for University Students : Education: Don't bother checking into UC Berkeley's Freeborn Hall if you drink, smoke or do drugs. But it is not the boring place most people expect, students say.

September 04, 1994|SARAH KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

BERKELEY — Residents of one UC Berkeley dorm have a message for their fellow students who like to light up--anything. If you tune in and turn on, or even smoke cigarettes and drink beer, you have to drop out of Freeborn Hall.

About 230 students--many of them exasperated with the lifestyles of their fellow students--have secluded themselves in the campus's first substance-free dormitory, which opened this fall.

Residents of Freeborn Hall pledge not to bring or use alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs in the building--a renovated high-rise two blocks south of campus.

In the other Berkeley dorms, students of legal age are allowed to smoke and drink in their rooms. Illegal drugs are prohibited, but in a city where many people have not ended their trip through the psychedelic '60s, and the City Council orders police not to enforce marijuana laws, drugs are easy to come by.

As in many campus settings, moderation is not the rule. Students tell stories of beer kegs stored in closets, pot parties that last till dawn and cigarette smoking stopped only for sleeping.

The dorms have also harbored a few drug dealers. In April, university police closed in on one student who had 180 hits of acid and small amounts of marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms in his room.

The bottom line is, for students not interested in mind expansion, the regular dorms can be one big hassle.

"I lived above three chain smokers and next to two more. I would open the window for fresh air, and have to shut it right away. It was like living above a chimney," said Gbenga Ajilore, 19, of Pasadena. Ajilore, another student and a member of the housing staff persuaded the school to create Freeborn Hall to escape not just smokers but substance abusers.

"I'd find my friends passed out outside the building. I'd have to bring them in and take care of them," Ajilore said.

He now works in the building checking students' ID cards as they enter the dorm, but he lives off campus.

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Others, such as Martina Estrada-Melendez, 18, of Los Angeles and Edwin Tang, 18, of New York City, want to avoid dealing with the late-night disturbances and the vomit that often accompany weekend drinking.

"Students choose to live here for a variety of reasons," said Aaron Anderson, the residential life coordinator who came up with the idea for the dorm. "Some have already experimented with alcohol and drugs and they've had terrible experiences; some are serious students, and some choose it because of their religion. There are others who come from families where maybe a parent . . . was an alcoholic," Anderson said.

The 230 students who live there make up a small percentage of the 5,200 undergraduate and graduate students living on campus. But there were more than 400 requests to live in the dorm, and more have come from students who have experienced their first week at school in the real-world dorms.

"Students come up to me all the time and ask how they can get in here," said Corinna Monzon, 21, a residential adviser who has lived in both types of dorms.

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It is not the boring place most people expect, Monzon said.

Aside from different preferences, students in the substance-free dorm are hardly distinguishable from their counterparts.

They blare music, talk in the halls until the wee hours of the morning and cram for exams.

The dorm has chosen the questionably hip 1980s as its theme for throwing parties--meaning they play Culture Club music and applaud Velcro-trapped gym shoes. They also have "mock tail parties," take tours of San Francisco and the campus late at night, and are known for impromptu dance parties.

"There is still noise, just not drunken noise. It's not like a whole other world," said 18-year-old Nichelle Hines, a freshman studying English and drama.

Crizella Wallace, an 18-year-old from Paramount, said she has never had a sip of alcohol or smoked a cigarette. She said she lives in the dorm because she suffers from asthma, bronchitis and emphysema and must stay away from smoke.

And then there's Jessica Morales, 18, otherwise known as Miss Teen California 1993. Morales, who chose to come to Berkeley to study integrative biology instead of running for the national title, said she is sick of watching drugs destroy people's lives.

"I've seen so many friends get torn up on acid, speed and Ecstasy. I've had two friends killed and another two critically wounded (in a car accident) when they left a teen 'rave' party where they could get anything from LSD-laced lollipops to nitrous balloons."

Students who live elsewhere tend to scoff at the dorm and its residents--at least until they visit and see how clean and upbeat it is, Monzon said. Then they start reconsidering.

Zeehat Kasubhai, who lives in another dorm, conceded that she may have been too quick to dismiss Freeborn.

"I wanted more of a live environment," Kasubhai said. "I guess I stereotyped the place."

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