Off-campus liberty

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November 30, 2006

1:18 AM

Despite my fervent agreement with sophomore Matt Beato’s Nov. 10 column opposing Williamsburg’s cap on the number of unrelated people who can live off-campus together, I feel obliged, as a student who does live off-campus, to point out a number of matters in which he does an extreme disservice to students at the College. The columnist, who has been at the vanguard of the struggle for student voting rights during his brief time here, seems to have forgotten that the measures he urges the city to adopt to maintain order (if the housing ordinance is repealed) are precisely the sorts of measures that would be overturned if there were something resembling a democracy in Williamsburg. For example, Williamsburg might intensify the enforcement of its noise ordinance and, by implication, there might be a more vigorous enforcement of laws pertaining to drug and alcohol use.

p. In addition, by objecting to the city’s policy and distancing himself from the very people damaged by the policy, the columnist muddles the discourse on individual rights, which should be at the center of all of these battles with our local government. In his world, the people who exercise freedom of action and freedom of conscience are in the minority while good, law-abiding citizens, like himself, are in the majority. This is simply not the case.

p. There are many reasons why a student might opt to live off-campus after their required on-campus experience of freshman year. Even within our artificially-contracted housing market, rent is still, in most cases, markedly less expensive than the obscene rates charged for dorm rooms by Residence Life. More adequate cooking facilities, especially important for students with alternative dietary needs, are another perk. Beyond that, there is a rewarding difference in the pace of life experienced in a dwelling that functions as one’s home. Living off-campus, particularly if one is able to live in the same place for the last three years of his or her undergraduate study, lends a stability that is often lacking in dorm life. For all of these reasons, I would never choose to go back to living on-campus.

p. But there is one more very simple reason why I would never live on campus: privacy. As Residence Life staff continually tromps out the notorious “failure to comply” rule to coax its way into students’ rooms, it is clear that students have something less than full Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. As a person hell bent on violating the laws of both our commonwealth and our republic, I simply cannot stomach the idea that some RA on a power trip (thankfully, my only RA was not such a person) could endanger my ability to remain a student at the College. And over what? Over my decision to assert autonomy over my very own neurotransmitters. What could be a more inalienable right than the right to that autonomy? How can the pursuit of that autonomy be distinguished from Thomas Jefferson’s “right to the pursuit of happiness?” Let the record show that Jefferson did indeed make recreational use of a particular drug derived from the cannabis plant.

p. The Residence Life staff, by the way, is taught to recognize the aroma of burning cannabis during their training. While the cannabis that they burn is, no doubt, very poor in specimen, an RA armed with that training is far more capable of harassing a student smoking in her or his room than an officer of the Williamsburg Police Department would be in trying to inflict similar injustice unto a student living in a three-bedroom house off-campus. After all, the smell simply will not travel far enough to manifest itself under a yonder policeman’s nose. Students living off-campus are inherently less vulnerable to abridgements of their liberties resulting from our absurd drug and alcohol policies.
Having the sense to acknowledge that living off-campus is the safer bet, many students, who choose to make responsible use of both licit and illicit substances, act upon that instinct and move off-campus. Some of these people even have parties from time to time. We are in college, after all. If a neighbor has a problem with the noise emanating from a party, then it would seem as though the simplest way to deal with that issue would be for the offended party to simply tell his or her student neighbor about their concern. That is called common sense.

p. Matt Beato, in his piece, does not delve into the reasons why people choose to live off-campus. If he engaged in such a discourse, then he would have realized that the policies that he has suggested are just as incongruous with basic notions of liberty as the “three-person to a house rule.” He invites the city to rain down further injustice upon us, and I, personally, resent him for that.

p. __Thomas Silverstein is a junior at the College. His views do not necessarily represent those of The Flat Hat.__

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