Skip to main content

Stress-relieving petting zoo to midnight mocktails: Well House debuts on the Row

A new theme house on the Row offers substance-free living and wellness to its residents, as well as programming and resources for all students.

Image shows the resident fellows for Well House in front of the house itself

Ryelee and Noel Vest are the resident fellows at Well House (Robert Moore North). (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

As many undergrads are discovering, there’s a new theme house on the Row, offering substance-free living and wellness to its residents, as well as programming and resources for all students.

Well House has room for 51 undergraduates plus Resident Fellows and common spaces. Centrally located and offering robust programming, it’s a change from previous substance-free housing.

“Community and belonging is a core tenet of the house,” said Ralph J. Castro, Associate Dean of Students and Director of SUPER, the Office of Substance Use Programs, Education & Resources. “We are trying to infuse community building into Well House’s mission, not only for residents but for the substance-free community at large.”

Respectful, supportive, fun

Well House is part of a broader strategy on the part of the university to reduce dangerous alcohol and other drug use. The house debuted this year along with the undergraduate neighborhoods.

It’s social programs range from a stress-relieving petting zoo to midnight mocktails on Saturdays, as well as speakers and educational events.

Arnob Das, a senior and Well House resident, thinks the location shows that accommodating substance-free students is a university priority.

“This is a space that should be held in equal regard, and students should feel it’s accessible,” Das said.

Das chose to live in Well House after a relapse, and has enjoyed having substance-free social events.

“I thought, ‘Maybe I should be more intentional about the space I’m in,’” he said. “Folks who have decided to live here have been really good about being respectful about this commitment.”

Choosing Well House

About 10 to 20 percent of the students in the house, like Das, are in recovery. For them, this is a vital resource, said Noel A. Vest, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative & Pain Medicine at the School of Medicine and a Well House Resident Fellow.

Some of the residents have religious reasons for avoiding drugs and alcohol. Some have a family history of substance abuse disorder. And some simply prefer to live in a substance-free house.

The application to live in Well House includes essay questions about how residents would contribute to the community and why they want to live there. Residents agree not to use substances either in the house or elsewhere while living in the house.

“There are a multitude of reasons why people are substance-free in this house,” Vest said.

Well House hosts weekly meetings for students in recovery from addiction, and Vest, who has been in recovery for almost 20 years, is part of the team working on Cardinal Recovery, a more structured recovery program for the Stanford community.

“Having a community at a university, a safe place, is a high priority for me wherever I go,” Vest said. “The idea of a collegiate recovery program is to offer students the resources and create community, but more important, it’s to reduce the stigma of substance-use disorder campuswide.”

Building community

A lot of conversation on college campuses focuses on students who are drinking alcohol or using drugs, but Castro said Stanford’s statistics show that close to 30 percent of undergraduates do not use alcohol regularly, and a big majority do not use illicit drugs.

“The biggest challenge has been having to correct misperceptions about what it means to be substance-free,” Castro said. The community needs to know that “these students are here — they’re not marginalized, they have a voice, they have needs and wants, and we need to create space for them to flourish.”

Students who would like to live in Well House next year will go through the regular university pre-assignment process. The house is not open to first-year students, but offering substance-free living to frosh and scaling up substance-free living in general are under consideration.

“Students are reporting that they really enjoy the Well House community and are getting a lot out of it,” Castro said.

“The best thing we can do for students in recovery,” Vest said, “is let them know they are welcome and that there are resources here for them.”