The quintessential dorm-life experience is a college freshman experience. Ideally (and probably most often) the two go together. And that’s because several factors come into play. First, you are probably away from home and direct parental control for the first extended period of time. Second, most of your roommates and fellow dorm-inhabitants are going to be new to the geographical region your college occupies. You are equally strangers in a strange land. Those who grew up locally may be viewed paradoxically as fish out of water: why are you here if you grew up here? Third, many of you are not so much going to college as escaping from home. The sorting out comes fast and strong, separating the sheep from the goats from day one, which is to say, dividing those who arrive alone and in their own cars — and those who arrive in the company of doting Mom and Dad, who take the car with them when they depart.
Arrgh. Will the shame never end?
Another divisor necessarily also starts the day you arrive: do you live in a co-ed dorm? We here at BookwormLab did. Our occasional forays into the gender-segregated wings felt strange and unhealthy — so restricted. In such places, the opposite gender took on a status it didn’t quite deserve. What’s the big deal? To paraphrase Max Weber’s famous remark about medieval cities, co-ed dorms breathe free.
Hey, this is our blog — we’ll say what we want.
The next factor that comes into play is the realization that you are collectively and culturally older now — or at least can openly pretend to be. Stupid stuff that went on in high school finds a cold welcome. In its place comes stupid freshman stuff, like beer-can walls — apparently still popular after all these years and still looked down upon — and rightly so — by sophomores. You begin to notice something new about people your own age: how different they can be from you, whom you once thought was special. One of our roommates was already a professional water-skier, and had a commercial ad-poster on the wall featuring himself adroitly making some high-speed maneuver on a particular brand of skis. Getting along usually comes fairly easily at first. Everything is so new, the ordinary rules don’t seem to apply. An easy comradeship springs up (among the guys anyway) and hallway doors are open. And your roommate might even write an essay for you — the start of a brilliant career for both of you. But that free and easy democracy begins to fade into routine after two or three months. After that your group will probably be, for better or for worse, a day-to-day functioning familoid unit. There’ll be the usual individual highlights, the details of which we will skip because, adjusted for gender, you either already know them or will know them by June. They’re basically the same for everyone, repeating themselves as surely as the sun revolves around the earth.
Some students will go on to live in dorms in their sophomore and succeeding years. But that takes a special kind of spirit — or pocketbook. For most of you, dorm-life will be done at the completion of your freshman year. Thereafter you will probably find yourself living in “student-infested housing,” a brilliant coinage by the late, great biologist Lynn Margulis.
Here at BookwormLab.com, we still remember meeting each of our freshman-year roommates. But we can’t remember how we parted from them. Your first roommates, it seems, never leave.