CUL: crucial for community

The other night, I took a deep breath and resolvedly put on my thick-soled running shoes. I layered up, like a good traveler should. I packed my rations for my journey carefully – made sure that I had enough water to make it there and some Polar Pure should I run out. I had food enough for a journey two times as long, and bedding to sleep on should I get weary. I stretched my limbs. The journey would be a treacherous one and my stomach writhed in knots as I traced my route in my head. Finally, I was ready – I pushed out of my safe Currier home and took my first step, crossed Route 2 and headed for Mission Park.

I had a group of five with whom I went into the housing draw last April. We went into the Mission lounge a happy group of hopeful freshmen girls with the third-lowest pick in the class. We came out a sobbing set of two pairs of roommates and an odd woman out. Rather than the luxurious cement-Mission-singles-with-one-right-angle-and-room-for-a-bed-and-a-desk-maybe, we came out with Odd Quad rooms, separated not only from each other but also from any people whose names we might recognize. The situation was drastic, dire even. There was much wailing, much gnashing of teeth. Forthcoming were “conversations” with Tom McEvoy (who is a saint, by the way) and threats of drastic measures such as tenting out on Baxter lawn for a semester.

For several months my roommate and I lived in relative isolation in our humble housing in Currier basement. I, at least, was intimidated by living in a room surrounded by people who supposedly have interests very different from my own. In fact, I may even describe myself as being somewhat stuck-up about it. However, when you share the most basic aspects of daily living with people – your toilet, your sink, your refrigerator, your washing machines, your shower – there comes a point where you can no longer pretend that you are living alone. I have since come to find myself in late night hallway conversations with some of the guys living around me, and we always check in on what the others are up to, whether it’s a late night study break, a concert or a game.

Because of this unique experience, I have a correspondingly unique and, I would say, privileged perspective on the CUL proposal to reduce housing group size to four people. The experience of living with people with diverse backgrounds, interests, and approaches to life is an absolutely invaluable one. We all admittedly come to campus with many differences, and I truly believe that the way to appreciate those differences is to share the things that we have in common: the mundane aspects of everyday life.

Most everyone (give or take a few exceptions) brushes their teeth, showers and has occasional late nights, midnight snacks and laundry crises. It is within these daily activities that we will be able to find the connections to people with whom, superficially, we might never have found anything in common.

The experience of living with your closest friends is fun, but not irreplaceable. And, in fact, you would still live with three of them! In my mind, this proposal is not an extreme, but a compromise. You are not being tossed into a completely unfamiliar, uncomfortable situation as some would have you think. Three of your best friends would be there with you – which is more than I can boast for this year and, actually, is about the number that 80 percent of the campus picked in with last April anyway.

In my experience, living in relative isolation from my closer friends has forced me to be outgoing. I hear quite often from past or present Mission residents that it’s too easy to stay confined in a suite where you’re living with six of your closest friends. Many people begin to feel the monotony of living with the same people all the time, and as the cement walls begin to grow old, so too do suitemates. By spreading groups of friends across our mile-wide (if that) campus, social life simply becomes more fluid. You go to visit friends in the Odd Quad. They come to visit you. In visiting them you meet their next door neighbor, who sings in a band with someone from your freshman entry, who went to high school with someone you know, who just finished reading your favorite book, who dated your JA’s younger sister’s suitemate. Think back to the first few months of freshman year and then to how you came up with the group of friends you have now. It was described to me once as “networking.” And it seems to me that this networking has gone from a frenzy of electric connections to a few weak sparks on occasion. In my mind, this housing proposal would be the most complete way of reinstalling that after freshman year.

Don’t get me wrong; living with my friends means as much to me as it does to you. And I would definitely be in support of restricting this proposal to rising sophomores and juniors only. However, to me, braving the (at most) ten-minute walk across campus to visit friends is worth a little reality, a dose of community and some networking for this campus. There are 2,000 people here and each has a remarkable story to tell. I’m not so idealistic that I expect this to be an easy transition, or one that results in a bunch of shining new cross-boundary friendships. However, I am idealistic enough to believe that a new understanding and appreciation of each other is enough to justify this. And I challenge the student body to keep that opportunity from going to waste.

People call this a small college. I say it is as small or as large as we choose to make it.