Life in the Dorms

What life looks like in a freshman dorm at 3 AM.

I just ran across a really interesting article about life in the Stanford dorms from the perspective of a faculty member who’s been living in Donner House for 16 years.

One excerpt on the late-night scene: By day, freshmen manage the ins and outs of academic and residential life; they are dedicated students, loyal friends, committed musicians, gifted athletes, devoted community volunteers. But an RF soon learns that this everyday world is to some extent a concession on their part: theyre generally very nice people and bear us no particular grudges. Theyll play our detail- and schedule-laden game if thats what we really want. But when the adult world puts on its bathrobe and gets ready to turn in, another reality bubbles up in the hallways and lounges.

Late at night, when the everyday has lost its grip, convention, habit and expectation fall away in a general liberation from the demands of the clock. There is no etiquette for pajamaed encounters over Proust, MP3s, the Buddha, the Band. There are no courtesies between two students with toothbrushes in hand and something on their minds. During these clockless nights, students begin to find and educate themselves. The conversations are not always tony ones on religion or philosophy; students also mix it up on the design of the dorm T‑shirt, the no-car policy for frosh, the virtues of Willy Wonka, the difference between mankind and humanity. And these discussions take place in the nontraditional space of no perceptible time at all.

The late-night community students seem to create automatically is an important, perhaps even vital, rite of passage from the world of inherited ideas to the world of real thought. In this nocturnal place of chaotic challenge and revelation, new worlds can be contemplated, along with the latest crush. And it was an invitation to this conversation that I refused when I reminded Brian of the time.

Except in the classroom, most of us at the University have little to do with undergraduate life. When we do become involved, we are often representing the Universitys authority to its most insistentand sometimes troublesomestudents. As a resident fellow, Ive had my share of difficult discussions. It falls to the RF, for instance, to tell a student that, delightful person that he is, hes an ugly drunk. Or, as the caretaker of the whole community, an RF will have the unpleasant task of letting a few students know that their particular brand of hilaritysexist, homophobic, or just plain loud or smellyis a pain in the collective tush. I remember once having to remind a group of young men that when our facilities supervisor (a wonderful woman who took virtually every other thing about dorm life in stride) was in the mens bathroom, they needed to refrain from using the urinals. And I remember rather twitchily seeing the students out, carefully shutting my door and collapsing in laughterat the sheer ridiculousness of having to remind smart young people of such a normal courtesy; at the very real importance of it; and finally, at the fact that no one had ever told me Id have such a conversation in my own home.

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