The trials and tribulations of living in ‘Tannex’: a first-year’s perspective

Ry Emmert

When I divulge to peers at the College that I’m a first-year living in Tyler Annex, better known as “Tannex,” the most frequent response I get is along the lines of “Oh, I’m sorry.” My reply is often, “It is what it is,” or, “It could be worse.” Could it be worse, however? Living in Tannex as a first-year has facilitated social, physical, and psychological challenges; its large entry size of roughly 50 students is daunting compared to the average 30-person freshman entry located in Mission Park or Frosh Quad, and its relatively distant location is far from desirable. With Mission Dining Hall’s limited hours of operation, the nearest dining hall to Tannex is Whitmans’, a 12-minute uphill walk away. All first-years in the entry live in flex doubles, with many of them having roommates confined to an average space of 133 square feet. But really, is there anything to like about living in Tannex as a first-year? 

Tannex is described on the College’s website as “offer[ing] nice common areas and a kitchen on the first floor” with bathrooms that are “semi-private, shared only by two rooms each.” First-years living in Mission Park and Frosh Quad share bathrooms with about five to nine other students, with small, kitchenless common rooms, or “crooms,” available for leisure, snacks, and celebrations. In Tannex, I have easy access to a kitchenette on the third floor (where I live with a roommate), an expansive second floor croom, and a fully furnished kitchen on the first floor. This arrangement allows me to make a quick breakfast in the morning when I’m running late for class and provides spacious study areas. Never must I trek from the third floor to the first floor of my building to fill my water bottle or wash my dishes unless I want to take advantage of cooking in the kitchen. 

Regarding the building’s bathroom arrangement, I find it especially agreeable for first-year living— that is, until a neighbor accidentally locks me out of our bathroom. If someone gets locked out of their shared Jack-and-Jill-style bathroom in Tannex, that bathroom can’t be unlocked until the neighbor returns to their room. Since Tannex is distant from the center of campus, it’s impossible to expect one’s neighbor to come back to the dorm to unlock the bathroom door if they had done so before exiting the building. As a nephroblastoma survivor who has only one kidney, this aspect of living in Tannex adds to the building’s inaccessibility, placing me at risk for developing health issues.

The College’s website goes on to note that Tannex “offers a view of a small forested area beyond a nice lawn on the north side of the building (deer often graze on the local greenery there).” The environment in which Tannex is situated offers a spectacular view of the Berkshires’ awe-inspiring Purple Valley. Often, when I’m walking up Tannex’s driveway, I spot deer, frogs, and rabbits scurrying around. The issue here, however, is the challenge of walking up Tannex’s driveway. Remember the building’s inaccessibility I just mentioned? Tannex is located atop an uphill walkway on Park Street; to access Tannex or Tyler House, a steep hike is required. Once I have reached Tannex and scanned into the building, I then must climb three flights of stairs to get to my room. For chronically ill students such as myself, this is exhausting and discourages me from traveling to and from Tannex more than once a day. Forgetting necessary belongings in one’s Tannex dorm room is a disaster in the context of a typical student’s rigorous schedule.

Considering the plight of students’ busy schedules conjures up frustrations with the building’s lack of washers and dryers. Tannex houses 56 students this year, including the building’s Junior Advisors (JAs). In the basement of Tannex, there are only two washers and two dryers available for students to use. As first-years and JAs alike tend to return to Tannex only at night, washing one’s clothes on a weekly basis can be a challenge. Last month, I was unable to wash some of my clothing for nearly three weeks due to the frequent unavailability of the building’s washers and dryers. For students who may not own an extensive wardrobe, especially those who must fly to and from the College with only what they can squeeze into a suitcase or two, having insufficient access to washers and dryers in their dorm building evokes feelings of shame, insecurity, and distress when they have trouble cleaning their clothes. 

With Tannex acting as a first-year entry, the building’s sense of community is integral to fostering camaraderie among its residents. However, the College’s entry system was not originally designed to include almost 50 students in one community; until the 2017-2018 school year, the entry system was designed to have two JAs responsible for 20-25 first-years. Attempting to morph the entry system to accommodate Tannex’s abnormal number of residents causes the entry to feel divided. Coupled with its location that is far from the center of campus, living in Tannex has felt isolating. In Frosh Quad and Mission Park, all students in an entry live on the same floor of their building; this makes bumping into each other in crooms and hallways more likely than it is in Tannex, where our two crooms are located behind the door to each hallway. 

The first year of college is a transitional period from homelife to dorm life, in which students begin to grapple with a newfound perception of independence. Therefore, living in an entry that promotes feelings of isolation is far from ideal and detrimental to students’ mental health. Where the freshmen entry system is intended to foster a “home away from home,” for first-years at the College, Tannex as a building falls flat, by no fault of our supportive JAs.

As a first-year living in Tannex for the first time it has served as an entry, I hope that first-years living in Tannex will not become a trend. For first-year students to build community at the small, rural College, living in more intimate entries better fosters the formation of friendships essential to navigating life at Williams. I am thankful that Tannex will become upperclassman housing for the 2023-2024 school year, with all flex doubles in the building becoming spacious singles. I hope to move to greener pastures for my sophomore year at the College. 

 Ry Emmert ’26 is from Lewiston, Maine.