Dorms: a worthwhile experience

After being accepted to a particular college, one of the first choices students make is whether to move into a traditional style dorm or a suite style dorm. Some schools, such as The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, have completely phased out traditional dorms. At The University of Alabama, suite style dorms are growing in popularity with students and parents alike, but traditional dorms still have a place on our campus for a number of reasons.

Each fall hundreds of freshmen head to campus a couple of weeks early to participate in Rush Week. However, a number of those students decide not to join a sorority or fraternity for whatever reason and still hundreds more arrive at the University mere days before classes begin toting few or no friends from high school.

As I remember, the first few days away from home felt like a grown-up version of sleep away camp: unfamiliar surroundings coupled with a strange bed and questionable food. A last minute decision landed me in Harris Hall, one of the oldest traditional dorms on campus, and it was a hot bed of activity. Within a week, I had established a core circle of friends with whom I could share meals and secrets. After class, the porch and the lobby of Harris were always occupied by residents (and sometimes non-residents), and friendly faces shouting hello were common and welcome – at first. 

As the school year progressed, the close quarters and open setup became a hotbed for high school-style gossip, except the stakes were much higher because merely going home to take a breather from the toxic environment was not exactly an option. For all intents and purposes, the dorm was home. Soon, friendly faces felt more like watchdogs, monitoring everyone’s comings and goings. Explanations for comments and actions were expected, and by the end of the semester, I felt like I was slipping into the ninth circle of hell. I moved out in December and relocated to Somerville, the rarely-spoken-about all-girls dorm across from Paty.

However, as bad as my situation got at Harris, it was taken to an extreme level that many students never have to worry about experiencing, and I never regretted my decision to rough it in a traditional style dorm. I had to share so many things for an extended period for the first time in my life – a bedroom, toilet, shower and television. Everything was not set up specifically to suit my needs, and in the end, it made me a much more agreeable person, and once I moved to an apartment the following fall, I was much more grateful.

Later, I found out that Lakeside, Riverside and Ridgecrest were not, in fact, the royal palaces presented on the school website. Drunken party-goers punched a hole in a stairwell wall. A gallon of milk was spilled in another stairwell and lingered to the point of souring. Elevators broke, rooms were cramped, and kitchens were not as practical for cooking as some had hoped. A few people I met along the way complained that it was difficult making friends with people other than suitemates as doors were always closed and entire floors were often quiet.

If given the chance, I wouldn’t give up picking other girls’ hair from my comforter after washing it or shrinking away from the mold in the shower or switching clothes and shoes with the girl down the hall. No one ever forgets dorm life. But that’s not to say I would ever go back. I would never – under any circumstances – go back.

Almosa Pirela-Jones is a junior majoring in english and African-American studies. Her column runs biweekly.

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