The newest campus buzz

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February 16, 2007

4:23 PM

Daily routines at the College often cross over the boundaries of monotony. There seems to be little that can interrupt the distinctive aroma of coffee and sense of stress, both of which permeate throughout academic buildings and dormitories from the Wren Building to Morton Hall. Yet, for many students, a unique and pleasurable activity provides a necessary interruption from meticulous studying, glazed-eyed restlessness and tired limbs.

p. Hookah smoking, also known as shisha or nargeelah to the seasoned veteran, has emerged as a popular campus trend over the last several years. The trail of smoke can be seen late at night outside the Daily Grind, on picnic tables in the Botetourt Complex, on Thursday nights at the “Blue Caterpillar Hookah Night” at The College Delly and everywhere in between.

p. Hookah’s origins can be traced back to India and Persia, where its ancient pioneers originally smoked hashish or opium instead of the various forms and flavors of moist tobacco and molasses commonly used today. Since reaching the Americas during colonial times, shisha’s use has become widespread, particularly in larger North American cities where hookah bars and cafes are abundant.

p. The appeal of hookah is as widespread as the trend itself. Shisha smoking is enjoyable, relaxing, legal and distinctly more socially acceptable than most forms of smoking. Several students can enjoy one hookah, passing the hose from hand to hand, often while studying or discussing campus and global issues.

p. “I live in the Arabic house and we frequently come together to smoke hookah to share our aspirations in life and debate issues varying from the removal of the Wren cross to the war in Iraq,” junior Anthony Feghali said.

p. For one freshman hall during the 2005-2006 academic year, a hookah served as a social and unifying activity for a group of campus neophytes. At times, the second floor fire escape of Dinwiddie Hall was occupied by up to 20 people passing around a single hose and listening to stories from the previous night.

p. “I would say it was the best icebreaker we could have had,” sophomore and former Dinwiddie Hall resident Will King said. “At the beginning, when we were all strangers to each other, it was really easy to just sit out by the hookah together.”

p. Sophomore Kate Matthews, who also lived in Dinwiddie last year, agreed that having a hookah helped formulate cohesiveness among the residents. “It brought together the whole dorm. Everyone would chill outside and get to know one another and just hang out — a release from all the schoolwork,” she said. “Plus, I like the head buzz.”

p. Timur Tsutsuk, also a sophomore, brought the hookah to the dorm during Freshman Orientation, never anticipating the effect it would have.

p. “I have been smoking hookah since junior year in high school and I was really excited to buy one secretly the day before orientation so my parents wouldn’t find out,” he said.

p. Despite it’s growing popularity at the College, many students who arrive on campus are unfamiliar with the aromatic art. Some may have heard the terms “hookah” or “water pipe,” but the idea of creating a unique and relaxed social atmosphere with a communal smoking device is often quite foreign. Judd Kennedy, a junior Middle Eastern studies major, said that he had never even heard of a hookah or nargeelah before arriving at the College.

p. “To be honest, the first one I saw scared me,” he said. “I smoked but didn’t inhale.”

p. It wasn’t until Kennedy spent the summer of 2005 studying Arabic in the West Bank that he began to understand what he refers to as “the cultural significance” of a hookah or nargeelah in Middle Eastern society.

p. “Water pipes are used as a way to relax after a long day at work or a satisfying meal. For the people I lived with, they embodied the desire for communal growth and support,” he said. “I found myself in many social situations where it was expected — and sometimes demanded — that I smoke the pipe as a sign of respect for my host.”

p. Senior Victor Sulkowski and juniors Greg Cooper and Patrick Perlmutter were primarily responsible for lighting a fire under the popular trend last spring. They worked with The College Delly to provide the weekly “Blue Caterpillar Hookah Night,” where students are welcome to socialize and smoke hookah with their friends for a small fee. According to Cooper, they initially petitioned the College’s Space Management Committee to hold the hookah night at an on-campus location, but partnered with the Delly after their application was rejected. Still in it’s first year, the Blue Caterpillar has met with considerable success.

p. “I think it’s a great idea,” King said. “Every time I ended up seeing a bunch of people I knew and meeting people I didn’t. The atmosphere was, in general, very social, and everyone was eager to share and invite people to join them in their circle.”

p. Cooper believes that having a hookah night offers an alternative to drinking and an off-campus social atmosphere for students under 21. “Essentially, hookah bars are the only legal nighttime social event for students who want to interact in a social atmosphere, and William and Mary needs all of the social atmosphere it can get,” he said.

p. While certain studies have been conducted identifying the health risks of smoking hookah, there is a general perception, both on campus and elsewhere, that these risks are milder than those associated with cigarettes or other forms of tobacco,

p. “No one should think that hookah has any positive health benefits, but instead should think about it comparatively,” Cooper said. “Hookahs are not addicting in the same way that cigarettes are, and knowing that shisha tobacco consists of natural tobacco and flavored molasses, I believe that hookah in moderation is fine.”

p. From the Delly patio to campus benches and residences, hookah culture is spreading like smoke. The wide variety of hookah sizes and colors, not to mention the almost limitless selection of flavors and scents, enhance hookah’s appeal to students, but are by no means the core of the hookah smoker’s experience.

p. “A hookah isn’t valued because of its flashy silver exterior or sweet smelling tobacco,” Kennedy said.

p. “Hookah appeals to college students because it’s centered around community and connectedness. In the fast-paced, resume-building world of William and Mary, more students should stop and smoke. Or talk. Or both.”

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