Living comfortably

In recommending the implementation of quiet housing, the recent Neighborhood Review Committee report mentioned the case of a girl who had spent every single night in her friend’s room because of the noise in her building. I have spoken to people who have had similar experiences. I also know from personal experience that spending a weekend reading, listening to music by myself or just catching up on schoolwork or sleep is a near impossibility in most campus housing. At the same time, I recognize that this is a college campus and it seems almost unfair to expect people to not make noise on a weekend – especially when I’m the only person being bothered by the noise. This, among many other (better) reasons, is why I think instituting quiet housing is a step in the right direction.

Judging by Williams Students Online threads and conversations I’ve had with friends, this decision has been met with some hostility. I think a lot of this stems from a misunderstanding about what the rationale for quiet housing is. I’ve also heard from a lot of people who resent the designation of West as the quiet house. This is a complaint which I will not attempt to address – I’m sure someone who was on the committee can do a better job of explaining logistical problems. I will limit myself to addressing concerns about the very concept of quiet housing.
I think it is an undisputed fact that academics, athletics and other extracurricular activities are important facets of one’s college experience. I think it is, or ought to be, an equally undisputed fact that certain housing situations are detrimental for performance in one or all of those areas. Consider the person who has to wake up at 5 a.m. for sports meets. Or the person who has a heavy course load and/or is engaged in a lot of extracurricular activities over the week, and expects to catch up on work over the weekends. Now consider the situation in most houses during the weekend. While it may be true that the people who would like some peace and quiet on the weekend are in the minority, I don’t see how that is a problem. It is almost never acceptable for the interests of the majority to override the interests of the minority.

Some have said that people should relocate to libraries or other quiet spaces if they don’t like noise. I find this response to be completely absurd. I ought to be able to feel comfortable in my own room. Further, libraries shut at 10 p.m. on weekends, so even if I was willing to relocate I wouldn’t have anywhere to relocate to. It really doesn’t seem excessive to ask for a living atmosphere that is conducive to study and sleep.

One major concern seems to be that this will cause people living in non-quiet housing to be even louder and disrespectful. It seems that a request to ask people to be less noisy will be met with the retort that the person should have picked quiet housing if he/she couldn’t handle the noise. Perhaps I am being overly optimistic, but this seems like quite a bleak picture of the average Williams student. The kind of person who would respond in such a way is probably the kind of person who wouldn’t react positively to such a request in any case, so this doesn’t seem particularly damaging for supporters of quiet housing.
I’ve also had a lot of people tell me that quiet housing is the worst kind of solution to the problem of noise. It is argued that college is the place where we get to live with different kinds of people, and that learning to put up with unpleasant situations is, in some way, conducive to character building.

In contrast to the previous argument, this seems to be far too idealistic a vision of college life in particular, and life in general. People will always have different interests and different ideas of what a pleasant living environment is. I don’t see any inherent virtue in forcing people with vastly different conceptions to live together. I know that I would be a lot more sympathetic towards certain groups on campus if I didn’t have to share a house with them. I can respect their way of life and respect them as people without wanting to share in that way of life.

A lot of colleges enforce quiet hours in every single residence hall. All we’re asking for is one house with restricted quiet hours. We need a space for people who dissent from the majority opinion of what a pleasant living experience is. Quiet housing means that a lot of people are going to have a much happier college experience, and this is true for both the ‘quiet’ and the not-so-quiet. There will be less tension between certain groups, and I imagine there will be fewer noise complaints. Logistical issues aside, I have trouble understanding the opposition to this new housing system.

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