Campus Cribs: Sawyer carrels

I consider myself a Sawyer vagrant – sometimes you’ll find me on the third floor in my barren carrel when it’s time for serious work and at others I’ll be wandering the first floor looking for social distractions or snacks. The idea of committing to a permanent home in Sawyer scares me, but for many students, carrels present havens not only for scholarly pursuit, but also, perhaps more importantly, for personal expression through décor.
As I trekked through the library in search of the most exquisite carrels, I naturally ran into Charlotte Silverman ’10, a ubiquitous aural presence in Sawyer. Silverman took me to her lair, where she explained her take on the phenomenon of carrel decorations. “I think a lot of the decorating occurs because we need to lay claim to our piece of property,” she said. “People have a certain territoriality, a need to make their carrel look special. Decorating it signifies a certain type of ownership, a certain exclusiveness.”
Silverman’s décor is quirky, if on the minimalist side. In addition to the stack of books, which she told me is small in comparison to the piles she has in her room, Silverman has stocked her carrel with a dartboard, faux leaf wall hangings, a jump rope, barbecue skewers and two pots with unidentifiably small plants crawling upwards. “They’re going to be sunflowers someday,” she assured me.
A pair of friends who study on the second floor – Sydney Pitts-Adeyinka ’11 and Candace Gibson ’11 – offered similar justifications for their tricked-out carrels. “I didn’t have a design at all at first, but then Candace told me that there were all these gross people sitting at my carrel, even one guy dumping his dandruff all over. It was so disgusting, so I had to do something,” Pitts-Adeyinka said. “Then, one of my other friends said, ‘Why don’t you put all your Jonas Brothers stuff on your carrel and label it? Then no one will sit there.’ So I did.”
Indeed, Pitts-Adeyinka’s carrel is straight out of a Jonas fan’s wildest dream: Pictures of her summer sightings of the brothers abound, including a framed photo of Pitts-Adeyinka with Joe Jonas. “I had so much fun this summer, and it’s kind of hard to go back to this,” she said. “With all these pictures here, I can look at them and then do my work. It gets it out of my head so I can focus on other things.”
Gibson’s design aesthetic is meticulous and classy. “I’m from the South, so I’m used to the classic atmosphere,” she said before highlighting her pile of J. Crew and Lucky catalogues and the 10 varieties of tea she keeps on hand. According to Gibson, every time she leaves her carrel she takes at least 15 minutes to organize it, sorting her books and arranging an appealing fan of magazines atop her tablecloth that would make Martha Stewart proud. “If the stuff in the cubby gets messy because I take a book or magazine out really fast, I have to reorganize it, too,” Gibson added.
Back on the third floor, the adjacent carrels of Fida Tashfia ’10 and Adam Baron ’10 present contrasting aesthetics. “It was important to make my carrel a space where I would feel comfortable spending obscene amounts of time,” said Tashfia, whose carrel walls are jam-packed with postcards, pictures and other memorabilia. “The library is such a sterile space, and in some sense this makes it more homey.”
Baron offered a less cerebral take on his carrel, over which hangs an enormous green Nelson Mandela flag. “I just threw a bunch of sh– in my carrel; there’s not a lot of aesthetics going on,” he said. Describing the glut of sacred items within the carrel, which include a miniature Quran, a rosary, a tiny Palestinian flag, an image of the Virgin Mary and a Palestinian scarf called a keffiyeh, Baron did hint at something deeper driving his scheme of décor. “My carrel is really a balancing act – I always think it’s so much fun to have tons of competing religious imagery,” he said.
Aditi Chaturvedi ’10 described her aesthetic as “Indian plus super messy,” the Indian being the lush maroon cloth that covers her desk, the messy being everything else. Chaturvedi stores an impressive 65 books at her carrel, and is considering bringing in a cardboard box to set up a secondary shelf. She also keeps a stockpile of Sawyer late night essentials, which include some No-Doze, a coffee cup, Tylenol and a beanbag for her feet to help de-stress. “In here I keep Sour Patch Kids for when I get really depressed,” Chaturvedi said, gesturing toward her locked cubby.
Dae Selcer ’10, whose third floor abode is a veritable nest of German folklore and Greek epics, offered a different slant on the carrel’s social function. Selcer assured me her carrel is most noteworthy for the large “Vaginatarian” sticker on her laptop and her method of arranging her books to increase its visibility and, as a result, the reactions of passersby, which range from fear to approval. “I’d like to think that my carrel says something about my slightly intimidating personality,” Selcer said. “I like to watch people pass by who haven’t before and see their souls shrink inside of them. I like to scare people with it.”
Carrels are places of inherent contradictions, where people go to work and socialize, to be private and be seen. It seems, then, that the ultimate carrel has something for the user, but also sends a message to the Sawyer public, whether it be as direct as “Keep Out” or as showy as “my thesis on Kant needs more books than your thesis on Adorno does.” For those of you whose only décor is the occasional coffee circle, I encourage you to consider what your carrel choices might say about you.

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