Donovan House

I find that being a substance free student can be discouraging. From substance using students not understanding me, to my sub free dorm not actually being sober, there are very few places at Brown where I actually feel comfortable being myself. I spend most of my time alone in my room or at Andrews up until the point when the stoned/drunk students come in. It is a combination of feeling ostracized from others and self-imposed isolation. But Brown has come up with a solution for students like me — the Donovan House.

The Donovan House is a program house for sub free students and students in recovery. The Donovan House, which I am very excited to live in next year, will offer a number of advantages to the students living there. There will be a zero tolerance policy of substance use by anyone in the house, something that is not currently enforced in my “alcohol/drug free” dorm. I will no longer have to fear leaving my room and smelling weed at 10 am when I’m walking to class or see boisterous drunk kids roaming the halls on the weekends. I’m not trying to shame anyone who participates in those activities — have all the fun you want— but it does personally affect me when it happens in my living space where it isn’t supposed to. In the Donovan House, I will have a space where that fear won’t even enter my mind. I know I will be able to take solace in that fact. In the house, I hope I will be able to get to know people intimately for who they are and, possibly, why they don’t partake. Without the presence of drugs or alcohol, I find I really get to understand and empathize with someone.

The RPL of the house will be sub free and therefore have an intimate knowledge of what the students in the house struggle with on a daily basis, making them well-equipped to help out. To tell you the truth, I don’t know much about the RPL’s in my dorm. I’ve probably interacted with them a handful of times, and that’s fine, but, on a particularly hard day, I don’t feel comfortable confiding in someone I don’t know. From what I have been told about the RPL in Donovan House, that won’t be the case. The RPL there will be there to support the members of the house in their times of need and also to enforce the zero tolerance policy. That will be a tremendous relief to me.

 My hope is that the various programming to be offered at Donovan House, which is likely to include discussion groups, will help bridge the gaps among sub-free students. People are sub-free for various reasons whether they be religious, related to past trauma, a matter of personal preference, or experience with addiction.

I’ve noticed a common divide between those in recovery and those who are not. Students in recovery tend to stick with one another, and those who aren’t do the same. I’ve wondered why this is the case. Perhaps it is a matter of mutual misunderstanding. Since the members of the Donovan House will be living with one another and will be in programming together, the two factions in the house may come to know each other and set aside what differences they have.

Living there, I know all of the members will have one thing in common — we don’t get intoxicated. And while that might not be important to most, it is to me. My entire life is based around the avoidance of substances and to meet other kids like me can only positively affect my interactions.

Maybe I’m being too idealistic about what will actually go on in the house. But I imagine Donovan House being the first place at Brown where I can feel totally comfortable, knowing there won’t be the looming presence of alcohol or drugs, where I am surrounded by people who actually understand me and who I, in turn, understand as well.

Why Moonlight Deserved its Oscar


Many are calling last Sunday’s Oscars the craziest ever, the antics building up to the unprecedented mistake announcement that La La Land won best picture when, in reality, it was Moonlight. Jimmy Kimmel was a hilarious and timely host who added never before seen segments like a tour bus of random people coming to the venue under the assumption they were going to a museum, and candy being parachuted down into the auditorium. The jokes at Matt Damon’s expense were a welcome addition to the ceremony, but anyone who watches Jimmy Kimmel Live knew that was going to happen. The Oscars typically aren’t the most entertaining show, but Jimmy Kimmel delivered a clever performance. 

HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26: 'La La Land' producer Jordan Horowitz holds up the winner card reading actual Best Picture winner 'Moonlight' with actor Warren Beatty onstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

HOLLYWOOD, CA – FEBRUARY 26: La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz holds up the winner card reading actual Best Picture winner ‘Moonlight’ with actor Warren Beatty onstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Even though La La Land was projected by many to win, Moonlight is a superior film. It tackles real issues with grace, has a rich, complex story, and boasts tremendous performances.  Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, a young, impoverished black man who is unsure how to cope with sexual orientation and is victimized by the abuse of his drug-addicted mother. With an all Black cast, its storyline highlights a specific group of people, but still most can relate to the struggles of the protagonist. Anyone who has ever felt isolated, abused, or been close to drug or alcohol addiction can empathize with the story and its complex characters.

La La Land was a movie made to please the Academy: it was about two struggling performers, made by a once nominated director, took place in Los Angeles, had an A list cast, high budget cinematography, and, finally, it was a musical. It follows the love story of a down on her luck actress and her lover, a Jazz pianist. It attempts to defy expectations with its ending by attempting to flip the genre on its head, but in doing so falls into the same classic trap of Hollywood love stories — that love prevails. It’s common for movies about the entertainment industry to perform especially well at the Academy Awards — think The Artist, Birdman, and Argo.  

La La Land is fairly straight forward, while Moonlight delivers with its subtlety. It never panders to its audience and, as I said in my earlier review, “every scene is essential.” Moonlight deserved its win.

The Truth of Substance Free Life

In that first semester, I forced myself to go to parties, because, for once in my college career, I wanted to appear to be normal.

So I sit there as everyone gets trashed, rocking back and forth in a chair, chain smoking and chugging my Redbull, nervously staring at the alcohol around me. Eventually, someone will come up to me and ask “Hey, why aren’t you drinking?” or “You alright?” And what do I say to them?

No, actually, I have spent years destroying my life with all this shit and have just started to get my act together. I’m forcing myself to be here to appear normal for one second, but no, actually, besides all that lovely stuff, I’m just dandy.

No, instead of that, I opt for the Oh. I’m sick. Can’t drink. or Yeah I’m fine. It’s totally normal to be the grouchy old man in a freshman dorm party with kids drunkenly dancing to crappy Calvin Harris remixes, right? I stopped doing that after the first month and the fourth time I helped someone walk back to their dorm room/throw up in a sink. At parties, there is the hope of meaningful interaction, where I might meet some like-minded, intelligent peers, but that goes right out the window as soon as the bottles come out. So I’m left there alone as everyone drunkenly parades around me as I contemplate my life choices and whether or not I should pick up one of the dozen of drinks in front of me. Why did I put myself in that position?

Being a substance free student can suck. I walk around campus knowing that at least three times in any conversation I have with other students drinking, smoking or parties will come up. I just have to shrug it off and pretend I don’t partake, so the other kids don’t get freaked out. Smelling pot all over campus doesn’t help, walking around unable to escape other students indulging. Furthermore, for a school that claims it’s so inclusive, understanding and willing to help, there are only a handful of people who have asked me if I’m substance free or not before going on a 10-minute rant about how “totally wasted” they got last weekend. For the most part, I can only really hang out with the other substance-free friends I made during orientation because a lot of substance-free kids tend to isolate themselves. I know, I’m one of them. Sure, there is the casual conversation in the kitchen/lounge, but it never goes anywhere outside of what classes they are taking. Even when pushed with more insightful questions, asking about who they are as members of society, they stare as though I’ve just killed a cat in front of them.

The dorm life isn’t much better. Walking on the third floor of New Pembroke 3, the worst smelling dorm on campus is much like walking around in a ghost town minus the occasional interaction when I’m on the can, and someone tries to barge in. Then there is also the problem of the people living in the sober dorm not actually being sober. The fact is, I know at least once a week my hall is going to stink of low-quality weed and that on most Saturday nights I’ll see crushed up Pabst Blue Ribbon cans outside the front door.

Then when I’ve finally had too much of it and blurt out that I am substance free, I will get one of two reactions. The first being complete shock and awe, which is instantly followed by the kid I am talking to questioning their life, how much they drink and if they are nearly as screwed up as I am. It’s silent for a few moments, and then they say they have class or something so they can essentially run away and don’t have to be confronted with my plight. The second is complete respect and understanding, which can even come with a hug or pat on the shoulder. That is a rare one though, so generally expect the first. I don’t want to scare other students, I don’t want to be some freak to them, but I can’t change how they react, so I hide within myself.

I’m not trying to put down all the kids who do partake, but I’m frustrated. I’m tired of spending all of my weekend nights in movie theaters instead of having actual meaningful conversations and getting to know people, which is impossible at a party where everyone is gone. As a sub-free student, I feel severely limited in how I can lead my life. I spend most of the time I have avoiding situations rather than joining in with them.  

   There are upsides to being substance-free, though. Walking into school, there is a built in community of people around you who inherently don’t want to escape, who want to experience life without a tinted lens. Sure, I really had to search outside my dorm to find other sub-free students, but all of those relationships have paid off in the end. Those are the genuine people I surround myself every day and having them in my life is worth all the bullshit I go through on a daily basis because I choose not to drink.


Basking in the Moonlight


Moonlight is an astonishing movie. Under the careful direction of Barry Jenkins it effectively tackles the subjects of life in poverty, drug addiction and closeted homosexuality, all while making you feel as though you are eavesdropping on real life events. I left the theater floored.

Moonlight tells the tale of Chiron, a young Black man growing up Liberty Square, Miami through 3 stages of his life: youth, teenager and adult. Each chapter is integral in Chiron coming to finally accept who he is, conquering some of the issues he faced throughout his life, culminating in realistically satisfying ending.

Barry Jenkins’ direction is impeccable. Each scene is essential. There is not one moment that is filler or out of place. The way in which the film is edited is even more remarkable, as evidenced by the transitions from chapter to chapter. Time doesn’t cut during standard events such as a holiday or birthday, rather in a key conversation or a character being sent to prison. Jenkins has a way of using tension, silence and subtlety to push the story forward. He never panders to the audience. There are moments in the film that defy immediate comprehension but later become clear. As a viewer you put your trust in his direction, and it completely pays off. When conversations about Chiron’s mother’s addiction or his sexuality come up, they aren’t presented to us in grand Shakespearean monologues, but rather in the actors subtle eye movements, which are testaments to the direction and acting capabilities on display.

When it comes to the performances of the all Black cast, everyone shines. All three actors who play Chiron in different stages of his life, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes beautifully capture this one character’s mannerisms and awkwardness in a believable and continuous way. When you see them on screen, you do not doubt for a moment they are all the same person. Naomie Harris gives a desperate and explosive performance as his drug-addicted Mother. Marshela Ali, from the recently release “Luke Cage,” does the same as Chiron’s unlikely father figure. Yes, the various actors who play Chiron stand out, but the fabulous supporting performances push it to a new level.

This film is not for the faint of heart. With graphic scenes of verbal and physical abuse, it takes it’s toll. I remember having to take a deep breath before heading back to my dorm from the theater. But that said, right now there is no movie playing that requires your attention as much as Moonlight.

Taking in ‘American Honey’


Walking out of a screening of the visceral of “American Honey,” I wasn’t sure what to think. Few films this year are comparable visually and in terms of character analysis. That being said, despite its excellent direction, acting and visuals, the film had a number of flaws.

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There’s a new dean in town (kinda)


Helping students with the varied academic issues they encounter has been Dean Shannon O’Neill’s job as the Dean of Juniors and Seniors, since she came to Brown in 2015. This past spring, her role has grew to include handling students’ struggles around substance abuse and sobriety.

For many the title Dean of Chemical Dependency will arouse confusion or curiosity, maybe even eliciting a snort or a chuckle. But, as college campuses are often filled with vibrant and at times destructive party scenes, the position makes sense for a lot of people. The Dean of Chemical Dependency has a job that differs from that of any other Dean because they face the trials and tribulations of students and faculty striving to remain sober. To simplify things, let’s call O’Neill the Sober Dean.

Surprisingly, this title is not new. According to Maud Mandel, Dean of the College, this job has a long standing history, having gradually evolved into what it is today. It started in the 1970’s with Associate Dean Bruce Donovan, whose passion for this kind of work filled a void on campus. As Mandel put it, the position, “was unique across the higher ed landscape.” Dean Donovan initially worked alongside Health services with the intention of aiding faculty in recovery, or those with family members or friends dealing with the disease. The support services began branching out to students and by the 1980’s supporting students’ became the primary focus.

When Donovan retired in 2003, Mandel explained that, “a number of people on and off campus that he had been working with, including alumni, endowed a position to keep the work ongoing and that’s when the position of Dean of Chemical Dependency took shape.”

This position might seem redundant when CAPS and health services already provide support in this realm. Dean Mandel clarified that the intention of the position “was for students going through recovery to continue to be successful academically, which is what the office of the Dean of the College is focused on. There was a concern that students who were still using or in early recovery might not be successful academically, so linking academic advising with chemical dependency support was intrinsic to the thinking of this position.”

Mandel had nothing but praise for O’Neill, describing her as “wonderful” and looking ahead at the work she will be doing said, “she’ll do this in her own way…and I am very supportive of that.”

O’Neill has big plans to support students in recovery going forward, in addition to what has already been done. “Historically, Brown has had a once a week, hour-long group meeting of students in recovery who are committed to abstinence from substance use. I would like to expand that to include monthly outings, social events and workshops with guest speakers, as well as provide a bi-weekly group session with a counselor. I also hope to secure a residence on campus with a lounge for meetings and hanging out. My role has been to provide academic and social support support and, help navigate the institution. I think we can build a more robust program, especially if we look at what’s been happening in the field of collegiate recovery in the last ten years.”

The struggle of an addict or alcoholic is not one everyone can understand, but it is not an uncommon affliction. The necessity of this position and the impact it has on recovering students and staff was deeply underscored by Deans Mandel and O’Neill. Having an individual always there to help a student in crisis is essential to a university campus.