Arts & Culture

Residence life 101

Leslie Montgomery

So, you’ve finally hauled all your belongings up the zig-zagging flights of stairs (or, if you’re lucky, up an elevator) to your new, glaringly bare dorm room. You’ve spent months anticipating, planning and packing for your looming freshman year in a residence hall — now what?

Stacks of college guide books and campus tours provide general tips and suggestions about what to expect, but they can only go so far. To truly get a feel for what a year in the University’s residence halls is like, only someone with recent first-hand experience can give the most honest advice.

The idea of living with over 50 unknown fellow students in such close proximity seems far from humanly possible — in the beginning.

“At first I was overwhelmed,” sophomore Erin Finley said, recalling her first perception of her new living situation. “I’m not used to being around so many girls; it definitely took some time to settle in.” Some residence halls, such as the Living Learning Center, have co-ed floors, and the University is creating a gender-neutral hall for the first time this fall.

Each floor is well-equipped with a wide variety of personalities to find friendships, ideally forming a cooperative and comfortable community. In each residence hall you can find students from all over the country, and some from around the world.

“It’s amazing how nationally and culturally diverse my dorm, let alone campus, was,” Finley said. Living in such close quarters leads to an unavoidable outcome found in the majority of residences halls. “You will get sick,” freshman Jesse Lerch said after recently finishing a year in the residence halls. “It’s impossible to avoid.” A good stash of Emergen-C and Kleenex, as well as common sense, should always be at hand.

Residence hall veterans say personal comfort hinges upon residents’ personal care and ability to interact with new neighbors. “The most essential action a resident can do to meet people is to simply leave their door open,” senior Jeremy Swanburg, who recently finished his second year as an resident assistant in the Bean complex, said. “Don’t be afraid to visit your fellow hallmates, either,” Swanburg adds. “Everyone is in the same situation as you … The way you present yourself the first few weeks in your dorm really sets the standard for the rest of the year,” Finley said.

Although being thrown into an entirely new environment and arrangement of people after being used to the same group of friends at home may seem difficult at first, it can pay off in the end. “Looking back, I never thought I would become friends with anyone in my hall,” recalls Finley, “but now they honestly feel like family.” It’s many residents’ first time living away from home, so it can become essential to find a close connection with people in the halls for mutual support and comfort.

Living with such a large ratio of people-to-building-size often leaves a resident searching for some privacy and escape. If you’re living in a single room, you can easily close your door when you want some peace of mind, but when you have one or more roommates, it can get difficult.

Studying or not, the libraries are always a great place to find some quiet time. “I usually go to the (John E. Jaqua) Law Library,” sophomore Zach Huber said. “It’s closer to the dorms and isn’t too packed.” The University campus is home to four unique libraries, letting students find a spot that best fits their studying and researching needs.

In the warmer months, residents find refuge in the various nearby natural areas. “On a warm day, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than by the river,” Finley said. “I love running along Alton Baker Park — it’s a great way to get away and get exercise.” The Willamette River, host to many scenic and peaceful spots to sit and get away from the campus hubbub, is just a brief walk or bike ride away.

Other parks within walking distance, such as Hendricks Park and Washburn Park, provide open space to study, take a nap, throw a Frisbee around or just relax. “There’s nothing like grabbing an ice cream cone at Prince Puckler’s and hanging out in the park on a hot day,” Lerch said. If you’ve brought your bike along, Eugene’s array of bike paths provide instant adventure, as well.

After being thrown into an entirely new environment, you shouldn’t be held totally responsible for knowing what to do all the time. RAs, the Residence Hall Association and dorm-wide activities help strengthen hall communities and inspire residents to become more active in general dorm life. Each hall’s scheduled activities are unique, usually based on a general vote or ideas presented by RAs. “We had a night where our RA brought us paints and canvases and let us just hang out and be artistic,” Finley said. Many halls conduct their own formal dinner, catered by the University, letting the residents pull out their old prom wear and get to know each other better.

RHA is a residence-hall focused leadership opportunity, which has elected positions residents can run for. “It really varies on the person,” Swanburg, the RA, said. “They have the ability to get their residents both involved and motivated in their community.” Residence halls aren’t simply for storing your possessions and sleeping in, they can also help residents become more involved in their new surroundings.

Looking back, residents overwhelmingly agree that their year spent in the dorms was beneficial, if not necessary. “Living in the residence halls was a crucial step into becoming independent,” Finley said. “It was both a humbling and maturing experience.”

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