With Family Weekend rapidly approaching, it’s once again time for students to make their beds, stash their liquor bottles, and, if they’re anything like second-year Robert Ren, hide the six-foot phallic symbol away from parental eyes.
Ren said that over the past few weeks, a blow-up totem poll that his roommate brought to school has prompted ample sexual jokes among his dorm mate. Crude signs speculating as to what the figure might symbolize spurred Ren to think twice before leaving it in the room for Family Weekend.
“There’s a reason I took it down,” said Ren. “They’re Asian parents.”
Like Ren, many students go to great lengths every year to keep their parents in the dark about their less-than-puritan lives at college.
One Shoreland resident who wished to remain anonymous to avoid “brutal reprisals” from the Housing Office and his mother described the measures he took to maintain a clean image with his mom, who doesn’t know he drinks or smokes.
“I made people stop smoking in the room for the past week, so it won’t smell like an ashtray,” said the student. Usually, he just opens the windows and turns on the fan to remove the scent from smoking in the room, an activity now illegal in Illinois. “And I’ll probably get a vacuum to get any residual ash out,” he added.
He said he’s also taking steps to conceal his “beer fridge” as “just a beverage fridge.” “We’ll probably have to get really drunk to finish off all the alcohol in the room,” he said. “And I’ll just blame my roommates for the hookah.”
The student identified one potential hole in his plan to maintain his straight-laced image: his housemates. He worries that while he’s with his mother, people might approach him to see if he’ll sell cigarettes, an enterprise he began this year after buying a few cheap cartons out of state. He sells cigarettes for $5 per pack in his dorm.
Has he managed to fool Mom so far? As a testament to her naïveté, he said, “This summer, she asked me if I drink with my fraternity brothers.”
Dan Wiedenhaupt, a first-year in the College, is employing similar tactics. He and his roommates plan to clean their kitchen and take down their alcohol posters. “We’ll replace them with [posters] that say ‘I love learning’ and ‘my parents are spending their tuition money wisely,’” he said, tongue in cheek.
Aaron Brenzel, a second-year in the College, said he cleaned up his mess and got rid of his Guinness bottles in preparation for his parents’ arrival. “I had to get rid of incriminating evidence, like my tobacco and my pipe,” he said, speculating that the items would disappoint his mother, potentially causing tears.
Brenzel said he enacted a three-tiered cleaning strategy in anticipation of his parents’ arrival: lifting up the bed to stash things underneath, filling boxes with trash, and hiding the boxes in the closet.
“There’s floor space to walk on now,” he said. “Before, I broke something every time I took a step.”
Brenzel denied his third-year friend Laura McFarland’s charges that, along with the boxes, he stashes bodies in the closet. After all, he said, if he did stash bodies, he “would probably just put them in the footlocker beneath my bed.”
Either way, Brenzel said his room has improved since last year, when he maintained a closet mead operation, using honey water and yeast to make his own alcohol. Sara Friedman, a second-year in the College, said her room has also improved since last year when she grew mushrooms in her room, though not for weekend recreation. Plumbing problems in a neighboring room had caused a leak, which prompted the fungus to grow.
“Actual little white mushrooms started growing out of my wall,” she said. Friedman said that even though it wasn’t her fault, the experience inspired a personal vow to maintain a cleaner room. “This year, my room’s a lot neater,” she said.
A few privileged students didn’t need to clean up their rooms for Family Weekend: They had friends who were willing to do the dirty work. Josh Nox, a first-year in the College, described his room as a place where “there’s dirty laundry usually incubating on the floor for a few weeks before it gets to the hamper.”
His friend and housemate Anna McGeachy, a first-year, was so put off by his room—which she said is “always a wreck”—that she cleaned it herself. “This usually involves a lot of picking things up, putting shoes away, and recycling all of Josh’s Red Bull cans,” she said. “Seriously, whenever I go in, it’s like a donation to the environment.”
McGeachy’s charity includes a non-disclosure clause; she promised to hold her tongue about the former mess when Nox’s parents arrive. “I won’t take credit for it,” she said. “I’ll let the parents think [he and his roommate] are actually civilized human beings.”
What does she get out of the deal?
“I have a place to sit when Josh helps me with chemistry,” she said.