Four White Walls: Now That's Residential Living!

dorm room

Once upon in the ’80s, a time of undergraduate education I experienced as a student and can vouch for, dorm rooms at colleges looked surprisingly dingy. This was the case also at very expensive liberal arts schools, one of which I attended.

I remember being slightly taken aback upon seeing my dorm room for the first time. It smelled as if it had received a fresh coat of paint (white, non of those multi-colored, accent walls) and two desks with a kind of gray wipe-down surface were attached to the wall next to each other. Two metal-frame beds with some paint chipping made up the rest of the interior decoration of what was going to be my new domicile. My new roommate and I were fortunate, so I later learned, to share a bathroom with an adjoining dorm room, so we were only four to a toilet and shower, and we had two sinks with mirrors. The bathroom was done in a kind of grayish tile. But we did not have to walk down a hallway, as did many students at some very august institutions, to use a communal toilet and shower.

Can you imagine students of today living the way many of us did on a college campus in the ’80s? I could, but then I am not in charge of student living, the residential aspects, or any number of terms that are employed where students bunk and maybe study, the only rule being that the term “dorm” not be used, either verbally, and especially not, in college promotional literature.

As I recall, most of us did not gripe about our living conditions. We had found a new kind of freedom, which included putting up anything we liked and however on the walls. We were busy making or finding bookshelves (with much-delayed apologies to the local grocery store for its missing milk crates), happy to have an outlet for our portable Smith-Corona typewriters in their brown plastic cases, and got busy deciding how we would split up the phone bill every month and what would be the best place to put the phone (my roommate and I rented ours, a not uncommon practice, and I think the phone was a kind of ’70s yellow).

No, my intention here is not to indulge overly-much in nostalgia, but I hope by having painted this picture of dorm rooms in the ’80s at some very fine colleges, educational institutions would reconsider the great expenditures and lengths to which they go to offer student housing with amenities rivaling “luxury apartment living,” though I am sure there is a fancy in-house term for what must present an undue financial burden to pay the mortgage on these facilities, when money could be better spent on educating students.

I am well-aware that one argument for this luxurious type of living, better than most students will at first be able to afford once they leave college, is that if our college does not offer this “wow” factor of living, students will go to colleges that have hot tubs and valet laundry. This is where peer-pressure must come in–colleges deciding together to stop this trend of one-upmanship in non-academic areas, and parents not giving in to their children’s demands for alcoves in rooms that will allow a better placement for a large flat screen TV, an item which often is the minimal college camping equipment expected even for the pauperized student.

There is plenty of time to repaint the rooms for the incoming class and instead of replacing the furniture to go with the decorator’s suggestions, leave it, slightly worn, and pass the savings on to the incoming residents. And parents, if you really feel compelled to pay for a great “living experience” for your children, how about sending them to study abroad with the money spent on having junior(s) living in a monochromatic dorm.


One thought on “Four White Walls: Now That's Residential Living!

  1. I hear a lot about the luxury accommodations for students these days. But I don’t see them on our campus (the students are living in triples designed for two students in the 1980s, and the latest dorms and apartments are being rebuilt after only 2 years, because they leaked so badly that dry rot was setting in—the original contractors are being sued).

    I didn’t see them when visiting colleges with my son last year either. Many of the dorms we saw looked a lot like the ones I lived in in the early 70s, down to the tiny rooms and the concrete-block walls, though some of the newer ones looked a bit shabbier, since they were built more like apartments and not up to the abuses of freshman living.

    Of course, we were mainly looking at public schools in California and at schools with good reputations in computer science and engineering. It may well be that schools trying to appeal mainly to future financial tycoons and politicians have invested more in luxury living—we were looking first for educational quality, not for snob appeal.

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