Incoming college students react to the newfound freedom of living alone in a variety of ways: that girl with overprotective parents now leaves her bong out on the desk every day; that guy who shared a room with his two other siblings and lived in a constant state of messiness has now become the biggest neat-freak on campus. Arriving at college may initiate a phase of liberation for people, but it can also restrict those who feel they can better express themselves in their own homes. College is the first time many of these young adults get to make their own decisions, instead of being told what to do by their parents or other authority figures. These possibilities give students countless choices on how they want to build their identity and through the exploration of these paths, one embarks on a process of self discovery that can be fundamentally enlightening.
Daria, a first-year student living in a single in Carmichael Hall curated her room to reflect her own distinct style. When entering her room, one’s eyes are instantly drawn to the Monet posters on her wall, the album covers, a sign from the climate strike, and a collection of photos with her family and friends. When asked about her favourite decorations, she points at a surrealist painting of a naked woman in a room, placed directly under a Van Gogh; the art in her room is both aesthetically pleasing and purposeful. A liberating aspect of having her own space is how she no longer feels limited in how she can decorate. “I had this poster that I got inside a vinyl and it was these two naked women listening to the album and I put it up and my mom made me take it down,” she laughed. “Now, I can do whatever the hell I want.”
“At my house, I didn’t have a lot of privacy,” she said. “Just because my parents would always barge in.” Now, she describes how the only limitation she has is volume in regards to her neighbors—and she tries to be respectful of that.
Feeling freed through the newly obtained access to private and personal areas can give students the space to morph, shift, and rebel from the expectations that confined them at home. They have the opportunity to play with the space and alter it; the bland dorm can serve as a canvas for creativity, like it did for Daria. This personal space can lead to not only a flourish of creative self-expression, but also allows the individual capacity to explore their priorities and values through the way in which they use their time and envision their space.
Control over one’s own space clearly has an impact on one’s comfort and happiness, but it can also influence social aspects of one’s life. By redecorating and refurbishing one’s living areas in order to make them more socially flexible, students confined to on-campus housing can explore this newfound freedom and space. The beginning of the year is the time to expand your limited pre-O circle and try to meet as many people as possible. This can be difficult at times within the limited structures and confines of the dorm room; the dorm rules, one’s neighbors or roommate, and even the furniture set up can have an impact.
However, two anonymous first year students managed to break out of this. One Saturday night, they and another six guys collectively decided to go down to the common room and bring up a couch. Before this night, their room was not a place anyone wanted to spend much time in. Now it is the social hub of their friend group. This one night, in which eight guys stumbled up the stairs with a couch, changed the room’s desirability and the roommates’ relationship with each other and with their living space. The boys concluded with a laugh that coming to Tufts is “kind of like re-inventing yourself… It’s a fresh start so you can be who you want to be.” Through the experience of creating a desirable room and atmosphere, the pair saw how taking action significantly improved their freshman experience.
It is these moments of individual happiness and satisfaction that inspire personal growth. Daria looked around her room and took it all in saying, “I feel like creating a space I’m comfortable with helps me know myself better which will help me in future living situations. Knowing how to create a space I love out of nothing is a tool I can use for the rest of my life.”
This practice of validating one’s faith in their own individuality, taste, and independence can help one understand one’s own intuition. This is a necessary process in separating oneself from the guidance of previous authority figures and allowing one to confidently make the weighted decisions that come up throughout life. That girl with restrictive parents now decorates her walls with whatever she wants; that guy whose parents constantly accused him of drinking and smoking now frames his wardrobe with empty handles. These symbolic rebellious practices and explorations are something they see as fundamental to explore, as this newfound freedom has allowed them to find a whole new side to life, its immeasurable possibilities, and to themselves.