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Substance Free Living

Margie shares about living on a Substance Free floor.

Margie shares about living on a Substance Free floor.


While Carleton is not a dry campus, most of our social life doesn’t revolve around drinking. 

In fact, we even have special communities, called substance free floors, that are especially built around having a space away from drinking. 

I have lived on a substance free floor for most of the terms I have been on campus. I even had the opportunity to be a Residential Assistant (RA) for two of those years. 

How does substance free living differ from other communities on campus?

The main difference is that the floor ends up being quieter on the weekends, but has active life in other regards. 

Substance free living attracts a more subdued crowd. So sometimes that requires more care and work to build a community. But with patience and a few amazing people, the floor can turn into a hub for everyone. 

First-Year: Substance Free Introduction

I’ll never forget the floor I lived on during my first-year. We had a very active floor life, that mostly came alive on Sunday nights or in the afternoons. I wouldn’t say anyone from that floor is my closest friend now. But I have fond memories of seeing my classmates on the floor. That floor really set the tone for my experience at Carleton.

Coming in as a first-year, I wasn’t sure what to expect living on a Sub-Free floor. Would all the other floors be filled with substances? Shouldn’t all first-year floors also be Sub-Free? 

But the answers weren’t as dramatic as I thought they would be. Sure, other floors could have alcohol on them. But first-year floors weren’t those places. My Sub-Free floor was just a place of more intentional community. 

My RAs are the people who set the tone for that. Even from the first moment of walking onto campus, you get to see your door decorations. These were mine and my roommate’s:

door decorations

Every floor has these, but mine felt like a welcome home. 

Door decs turned into weekly study breaks, with homemade brownies from our RAs. That turned into a strong friendship with both of my RAs. We would often get meals, both as a floor and one-on-ones. 

Substance free was just one aspect of that community, but it put all of us on the same page about what our spaces were used for.

Being an RA: 

After COVID and taking some time off, I decided to give being a RA a try. Honestly, a great choice. 

Because of my experience living on a Sub-Free floor, I knew that I would want to RA there. 

My first year I got 2nd Musser

An about me on the musser wall
You can write on the walls in Musser! Cute messages abound 🙂

Musser had it’s unique challenges of being both Sub-Free and primarily first-years. The floor was also huge. So a bustling community was sure to be found, but much more chaos and discord was possible. 

The floor wasn’t as united as my first-year floor, but I know everyone was able to fit into this community in the way that they wanted.

The second year I got 3rd Nourse. (Best dorm ever!)

"Hang up a fresh idea of care" bulletin board
I had a clean laundry theme for my floor, the door decs even matched.

A smaller floor promised either a tight knit community or lots of introverts. 

But this group proved to be much easier to unite. I didn’t even have to do that much. My first-year students quickly became good friends. I’d often find them rearranging the lounge or cooking in our kitchen.

The Unique Job of a Sub-Free RA

Being an RA on a sub free floor is mostly like all the other RAs. But there are some added challenges. One is keeping the floor substance free. The other is building community on a more subdued floor. 

Luckily my students often did that job for me. I just provided the snacks!

Since many students opt into a sub free floor, they are there for this specific style of community. So I didn’t really have to worry about keeping the floor sub-free.

Community at Carleton has and can look very different depending on where you live, but as long as there are people willing to build community it will be there.


If Margie (she/they) were a place at Carleton, they would be Sayles, Carleton’s bustling student center! Margie is a varsity Basketball player, is a DJ for KRLX, Carleton’s student-run radio station, and occasionally participates in Carleton Association of Nature and Outdoor Enthusiasts (CANOE). In her free time, Margie works at a food truck!