NEWS

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October 27, 2004

Roundtable unravels student opinions on new dorm

The Maroon editors sat down on Wednesday evening to listen to various students in the College respond to questions on the proposed new dorm, experiences with Housing Office, and thoughts on University--student relations. The guest list included fourth-years Ali Boudreau and Adam Weissmann, third-years Kristin Greer Love and Benjamin Gage, second-years Rita Koganzon and David Clayman, and first-years Adam Brunk and Erica Yamamoto.

Why does it matter to you that the dorms are renovated when you'll be out of here in a few years or less?

Boudreau: Knowing renovations are going on creates a new atmosphere. I think there's a psychological effect. You see that people are invested in the dorm.

Koganzon: It's nice to have a dorm building like Snell on campus where it's been in the school and the people are nuts and there's some sort of tradition. The new ones don't have a sense of University tradition.

Boudreau: Just now, Max has started to acquire some sort of history, so it would be unfortunate to [not maintain it] now. I think the smaller things like picking up trash, vacuuming more, putting on a new coat of paint would be good. Those are kind of like secondary issues. I think that how the dorm is set up really affects the way people live in it.

How do you think room sizes and setups affect the dorm community and atmosphere?

Brunk: I have the smallest double in the Shoreland, and it's still bigger than any other double in any other building I've seen. I like the Shoreland. Great rooms. The fact that it is far away, and it is isolated, it's kind of like a second community apart from the College. I don't really know what the house identity is for the other dorms, but our house does a ton of stuff. Whether or not I'm ever there, they do stuff.

Clayman: I'm missing all those friends I had. It's nice to go to the elevators and see everyone filtering in. I know that last I heard they were interested in building rooms around singles [in the new dorm], and people would feel ownership for their room. And if you give people singles, the sum of the space of those two singles would be less than a double, but they still would be happier with their own space.

Boudreau: Some people think that living in your own room and being isolated forces you out into the a hall to meet people, but it was the cramped quarters in Pierce that forced me to be out and social.

Weissmann: Singles are smaller, more expensive, and usually don't do a good job of forcing you out, like Ali [Boudreau] said.

Should they force you out?

Weissmann: They should make it impossible for you to exist without going out. I don't think they should design it so you don't have enough light so you have to go into the corridor, but they should create a better social space. The addition of the grand piano and the pool table were a great idea in Palevsky East. They should create glass-enclosed lounges where people could walk by and see who's in there, and then go and hang out.

How does the social space in Pierce compare to Palevsky or the Shoreland?

Yamamoto: At Flint house [in Shoreland], the lounge is outside the door that you need your key for. They have a lounge upstairs but none of the first floor people like to go upstairs. In Wallace [in Palevsky], it's in between a whole set of room so everyone goes there and they're a lot more social.

Gage: They have the tin can effect [in Pierce], and everyone has their rooms open and the common room is at most a 20-foot walk away. It's a rat-cage deal where at any point you're close to the common room. In the Shoreland, I was at one of the far ends of the wings and I had no ambition to go through a dank dark hallway to get the common room that was mostly used by first-years.

Brunk: Because my room lacks a kitchen and a lounge, I'm forced to use the common ones.

Love: The space [vestibule] in Max Palevsky for the suites is also an issue because I don't think that it's a useful space. It's extremely small. It's not conducive to having chairs or anything where people can react. Having a space where suitemates can get together, where four people can get together, would be better than just an entryway. They hinder social interactions because the doors are always closed. You can't see who's in the inner rooms, and you can't knock on the door and get both people's attention if both the doors are closed.

Gage: I think they [the new dorm's planners] want four singles centered around a suite. They said they were aware of having a clear shot into the rooms so that there's more interaction.

Boudreau: It seems to me that two models work well on this campus, and that's the Shoreland and Pierce. Max seems to have its own set of problems and that may be because it's new and people haven't learned to interact in its space. The University has to decide whether it wants to build another Pierce or another Shoreland. Pierce is the best. In Pierce, there's a more central focus on communal space. In the Shoreland, everything is more dispersed.

Koganzon: I like the vestibules, and that's where my suitemates and I did hang out, because the desks in the rooms were near the door. In case your suitemates suck, you can lock the doors and never see them, but if you have suitemates you like, you can prop them open.

What might builders consider when trying to enhance the community of a dorm?

Boudreau: Let me defend the communal bathroom. I lived in communal bathrooms for six years. Someone else cleans them. At first you think it's gross. If you're grossed out by it, just get it together. This is something that everyone has to do. It's nice to brush your teeth with someone else and talk about your day. If you don't have the impetus to go to the lounge, you still have to go to the bathroom.

Love: I think a community garden would be a good idea. We don't have a sense of community through work, and a garden might help provide not just communal living but communal work.

Boudreau: Northwestern has cable in all of the rooms. Do not, do not. They should not have cable. [It's like we're becoming a] middle-class, middle-of-the-road kind of University with Ratner. I love Ratner, but it's kind of cheesy. It's not the weird university it once was. Don't have cable.

Weissmann: For one thing, I was a total TV couch potato in high school. I didn't have cable for three years in the dorms, and now I have it again and it's sucking my life away. It's all about priorities. Whatever dorm they build has to be like the other dorms in that it has its own character. People coming in should be able to weigh their priorities. Why did I choose to put Palevsky as my first choice? Location, and that it was new. Someone else might have chosen Pierce because they like communal living and not being near the quads.

Koganzon: One mistake with Max was that it was a "first-year dorm." They kicked us all out after a year. That shouldn't be part of the housing experience, that you're all first years and drunk and stupid and then you have to move into a new dorm.

What are your thoughts on the impact of hallways—their widths, whether they are furnished or not, and their shapes?

Adam: In Palevsky they wanted to keep the hallways bare. Over the break the RAs took the script from "Pulp Fiction" and put it all the way down the hallways and, two days later, housing came through and made them take it all down. It was going to enliven the house experience.

Gage: In my high school dorm, although the rooms were singles, because there were only four singles in an indented hallway, it felt more like a community.

How important is it to have an opinion about these matters? Do you think the University will put your opinions to good use?

Gage: I don't think they care about our opinions. I think it's a money issue, personally. The University doesn't have all that much to spend. It needs to protect its endowment.

Love: To me it's important that they take student opinion into consideration, and that they invest in the long-term in keeping up the structure.

Gage: They do listen to student input and do tailor their opinions to that. When they don't listen, people go up in arms like they did with the Shoreland. There will always be resistance—informed and uninformed resistance—and more often it's uninformed. Last year, they had Shoreland residents fill out online questionnaires [on the dorm]. I just felt like the questionnaires were so targeted to seeing if they could draw out a certain percentage of people who were willing to get rid of the Shoreland. I felt like it was just a money issue.