Who Else Lived in Your First-Year College Dorm Room?

Who Else Lived in Your First-Year College Dorm Room? September 16, 2023

Most people would not know who moved into the room they lived in as a freshman. The other day, however, I met someone who started their college journey where I did: not just in the same dormitory or on the same floor, but in the same room with eight years in between. Her name is Jen. Earlier in the week, I would have answered the title’s question with a response such as “I have no idea.” I mean, what are the chances?

The First-Year College Experience

I had never really considered who had lived in my dorm room after I left. Given the amazing coincidence of finding this information out at an event 2500 miles from the room itself, I started wondering about the different people who lived in Room 206. Room 206 is across from the bathrooms and shower and next to the chaplain in residence. How many parents dropped off their children there, shedding tears, perhaps? Were the roommates, overall, a good match? How many students moved out at the end of the second semester, having made new friends and feeling a part of the university community?

A person’s first-year dorm room is a type of sacred space where an 18-year-old embarks on a new path and begins to decisions that will determine the course of his or her life.  It has been decades since I began college. How many students have begun their university experience in 206? What courses did they take, what books did they read, and what papers did they write? Who picked them up for a meal in the cafeteria? Did any significant relationships begin in that room?

A desk in a college dorm room
This dorm room inhabitant likes to drink tea. Usually, a dorm room reveals a great deal about its residents. Courtesy of cottonbro studio

Dorm Rooms Take on the Personalities of Their Residents

In and of itself, the room was not distinguished, with its painted, cement block walls, built-in desks, and limited options for room arrangement. It had windows that one could push out, a view of lines of students going to the dining hall, was close to the bathroom, and did not have air-conditioning. Most dorm rooms are unremarkable until the people inside customize them and make them their own. I remember I had a poster with Mr. Rogers that said, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” as well as photos of high school friends and family.

The Changes the Intervening Years Brought

In those eight intervening years, there was change. Jen likely completed her papers on a word processor and possibly had her own PC. I had a very nice, electric typewriter that automatically erased words that I had decided were not necessary or that I had misspelled. I had a nice-looking landline phone with a separate answering machine. Jen may have had a cell phone. I had to do my research with hard-copy books from the library, a place that I avoided at all costs, because it had no fresh air. By the time she graduated, Jen may have had access to the Internet, but possibly not when she was living in 206.

The Elements That Remain the Same

The key events that happened in 206 and in the hallway were likely similar over the years despite changes in technology. Making new friends was important, especially for an introvert like me. It is funny that my best college friend lived on my freshman-year floor, but we barely interacted. (There were 100 of us after all.) Doing well in classes would have also been important to those in 206, whether the students studied and read in the room, an empty classroom, or the stuffy library. Much of the personal, spiritual, and academic growth that occurred in the first year occurred in and around that room. Even while sleeping, our unconscious minds were busy processing what was happening during the day.

Did Jen have any of the same professors that I had? Did she attend the same Sunday Mass that I did or ever go to the 11:15 PM daily Mass in the university chapel? I will have to ask her when I next see her.

Thinking about this made me wish I had left a blessing for the room and all of its future inhabitants. Of course, there is nothing stopping me from praying that the current residents adjust to college life, pick good classes, find life-long friends, and make good decisions.

Imagine, meeting someone who stayed in “my” room decades ago!

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