News, University News

Substance-free students carve niche in social scene

SoBear Activities Club gains following, hosts at least eight alcohol-free events each semester

Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 6, 2018

When Alexandre Davis ’20 came to Brown as a first-year, he quickly discovered a lacking social scene for students who do not use substances. More often than not, he and fellow sober members of the community stayed in on weekends and wished that there were more alcohol-free recreational activities for students.

In spring 2017, Davis began to think about creating a substance-free activities group with weekly events that allowed members to meet each other in a sobriety-friendly environment. The club, which he founded last semester in partnership with current Vice President Natalie Zummer ’19, is known as SoBear. Davis aims to continue the club’s growth and success this semester. “We want to have fun and we want to be substance-free,” Davis said to sum up SoBear’s mission.

Since its inception, SoBear has proved quite popular, gathering over 250 members on its Facebook page and hosting events that dozens of students attend. The club tries to organize at least eight events per semester, including a mix of dances, rock climbing and even a haunted house during Halloween season, Davis said. Small, informal events are also popular, Zummer said, adding that some of her favorites have included “game night and movie showings.”

“The Donovan Substance-Free Student Initiative granted the club some seed money this fall when they were created,” said Shannon O’Neill, the club’s advisor and assistant dean for the junior and senior class & chemical dependency. The Undergraduate Council of Students, Student and Employee Accessibility Services, BWell and the Office of Residential Life have also supported the club financially.

SoBear’s events are free in order to allow all students, regardless of financial constraints, to attend alcohol-free gatherings. The club’s budget comes largely out of  grants and institutional funding, Davis said.

Davis and the club are planning a Spring Weekend camping retreat at the Alton Jones Camp in West Greenwich. The retreat should allow sober students an alternative to the heavy drinking generally expected on campus during that weekend, Davis said, adding that the getaway was one of his first event ideas when creating SoBear.

Both Davis and Zummer are excited to witness SoBear’s growth this semester. The club will again host eight larger events open to all members of the Brown community. Zummer explained that SoBear “isn’t just intended for people who are substance-free or have that identity,” and she hopes more non-sober community members at events “will destigmatize the substance-free identity.”

“I just wanted to have fun on the weekend, like any normal kid in college,” Davis said. College comes with an expectation to drink, “but people, for the most part, are respectful and understanding,” he added. In spite of that, he said the pervasiveness of college drinking culture did pose a significant hindrance to his social life.

O’Neill is pleased by the club’s progress and excited about the environment SoBear is creating for sober students at the University.

“I think the biggest thing that the institution and the Brown community can do for substance-free students is to maintain the integrity of substance-free spaces,” she said.

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