I moved into my dorm at Tufts in a distinctly haphazard way. I say distinct, because I think most college freshmen approach move-in day the same way I did: with that unique attitude of jittery enthusiasm which is ultimately responsible for the chaos of the transition. For most first-year students, the move to college is the first big step away from home, and the prospect of creating a new life and a new home at university is, well, pretty exciting.
Things get messy. Cars, minivans, and rent-a-trailers packed with boxes upon boxes of clothes, towels, and bed linens line campus streets. Televisions, laundry hampers, and miniature ironing boards are stuffed into every nook and cranny of trunk space. And these are just the ‘essentials’. What about all the posters, rugs, lamps, books, DVDs, photo frames, and other miscellaneous personal items that go along with creating a comfortable living space? As we go through the transition of moving from house to dorm, we bring as much of our homes with us as we can physically fit into a given number of plastic bags and cardboard boxes. We seem to think that by surrounding ourselves with the physical manifestations of our past lifestyles, our dorm rooms will somehow transform into small-scale versions our old living environments. Why do we do this? Is it really possible to condense our old concept of home into a 12’ x 15′ dorm space?
To a certain extent, I guess it is. I’ve got all the things I could ever need to feel comfortable here. Photo collection of friends and family? Check. Childhood teddy bear? Check. Abundant and steady supply of Nutella and peanut butter? Check. Kind of unnecessary but totally adorable French bulldog themed calendar that makes my desk an infinitely happier place? A definite check. But despite these little fragments of familiarity, establishing a feeling of home in the dorm is still a work in progress for me. This is not to say that there is a void of any feeling of comfort or security in this new lifestyle, it’s just that everything that once constituted what a home can mean has sort of shifted beneath my feet.
My roommate and I were talking the other day about how strange it was not to be able to come home after a long day of classes and collapse for a short nap on the family sofa or casually amble downstairs on a weekend morning and peruse through the newspaper at the breakfast table. We agreed that dorm life is not and will never be the same as living in a house with a family. The concept of property is different. Could you imagine your parents inviting guests over to sit and socialize on the bed for a bit before they served dinner? Sounds odd enough, but it’s exactly what we do here. Our living spaces aren’t really designed for a lot of the usual activities we do at home (like having guests over) so we try to come up with the most creative alternatives to make up for the changes. As a result, public domain merges with private. Our beds become coffee tables, and our desks become kitchen countertops. The concept of privacy in college dorms is different too. Ever attempted to take a nap in college? Try it; I guarantee it will be the most unsuccessful nap of your life. And all this time you thought that napping was a relatively fail-proof activity. Think again, college freshman. The singular space of your room at home is now part of a bigger picture— your “quiet time” and privacy depends on the moods and activities of the greater space.
However, despite the aspects of comfort that are lost during the college shift, I think dorm life adds a new dimension to the concept of home— one that’s perhaps more open, more sharing, and, as I’m sure most would agree, more fun. I love the communal atmosphere of my hall down in Tilton. The doors of my hall-mates’ rooms are almost always open, and the common room is perpetually buzzing with activity. There’s a certain liveliness and unpredictability to the place that I find completely exciting. While the implications of this, of course, can be dangerous—the home/school division that was so clearly defined in high school has now become blurred, and our decisions as individuals, students, and social college kids, have more weight than they’ve ever had before— I think dorm life prepares us better for change. Through the unpredictability of dorm life, we develop a readiness for change that allows us to better adapt to the impromptu nature of campus life. This helps us deal with the shift from the set schedule of high school life—the 7:00 am alarm, the 8:30-3:30 classes, and the afterschool activities— to the open, flexible schedule of college life.
So perhaps the move from house to dorm not only produces a change in lifestyle, but also fosters a change in mentality too. Maybe this is why dorm life is seen as such an integral part of the overall college experience: because it causes us to, dare I say it, mature in ways we never could at home. So as our freshman class settles down and becomes accustomed to the transition at hand, allow us to embrace the changes in our living spaces; lifestyles; mindsets; whatever, and eventually come to call Tufts home.