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Schiller ’25: Bad dorm or bonding experience? A positive side to disappointing housing

It’s officially springtime: The birds are chirping, the trees are blooming on the Main Green and campus is abuzz with outrage about housing selection for the 2022-23 school year, which can be described as nothing less than a total mess. With few resources about housing options, confusing information about the lottery and general panic about not getting a room next year, the past few weeks have been a stressful experience for students. Worst of all, on Tuesday, members of the class of 2025 watched in horror as all listed rooms for next year were snatched up, leaving many with no idea where they will live. I was one of the lucky ones who did get a room, but I am now confronting my unfortunate reality as a future resident of the dreaded Perkins Hall, considered by some to be the worst dorm on campus. 

Students have every right to be angry. Brown should not even have “good” and “bad” housing. Dorms with limited access to laundry machines and a lack of accessibility entrances have no reason to exist. Moreover, given the high cost of room and board at Brown, we deserve much more than the confusion and disappointment that we’ve been staring down for weeks as we navigate next year’s living situation. We can, and should, demand change. 

However, these are supposed to be the best years of our lives, filled with growth, self-discovery and core memories. Spending a portion of it hating your living space and feeling angry at the Office of Residential Life is not a productive response. 

Instead, take a different perspective. There is a saying that we find beauty in odd places. Terrible dorms are no exception: A strange beauty emerges from these dingy, crowded buildings — not in spite of their shortcomings, but because of them. If you embrace it, an undesirable dorm can become a unique and undeniably positive experience. 

I am reminded of this each morning in New Pembroke 4, my current dorm. If our alarms aren’t enough to wake us up, a symphony below our dorm windows certainly will: The strained speaker systems playing Bad Bunny at a ripe 10 in the morning, the grumble and roar of tricked-out cars and the wail of sirens drowning out the chirping birds all join together to sing “good morning” from Thayer Street. Every day, I must dutifully climb down three flights of stairs (we have no elevator), shivering in the brisk air to reach the outdoor trashroom. Lately, whenever I inch inside to drop off my trash, my muscles tense in memory of a particularly traumatizing rat encounter from two weeks ago. 

But when I turn back around, I always smile up at the red-brick monstrosity that is New Pembroke. The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” doesn’t quite apply here. The used condom on the shower floor, the suspiciously stained couches in our only lounge, the sink-less bathrooms, the seemingly always-broken laundry machines and the winding hallways are all landmarks of the building my friends and I call home. 

Yet this is not enough to deter us from genuinely loving our dorm. Somewhere beneath its unpleasant exterior — and even more unpleasant interior — there is joy hiding in the walls of New Pembroke 4 that outshines that of other, nicer dorms. Every screeching automobile on Thayer is a new bonding experience, and every night in our admittedly dingy lounge is a new memory. From my best friends, to my Residential Peer Leaders, to the few faces I still don’t recognize, we are a family. Without a doubt, New Pembroke feels like home. 

What I’m describing is not Stockholm Syndrome, but an odd truth about the college experience. There is an intangible thing that makes this time of our lives so uniquely beautiful, and it hides in the most unexpected situations: chaotic nights, collective naps, complaining about our studies and comically bad housing. Obviously, commiserating over bad situations can be a bonding experience. Surviving terrible dorms, at Brown and elsewhere, comes with a sense of camaraderie that cannot be found anywhere else. 

But while complaining about poor facilities and tiny rooms might initially serve as a conversation starter, it is not collective hatred for a dorm that makes the community within it so special. Rather, bad dorms bring out the best in their residents, inspiring them to go above and beyond to make the space more positive. In New Pembroke 4, our Resident Peer Leaders host events in our common room nearly weekly, persisting even when nobody shows up. Some residents arranged for a UHaul to bring our lounge a semi-functioning air hockey table, and others hung a “Believe in Yourself” banner featuring Miranda Cosgrove in their window. 

Not everyone in New Pembroke 4 enjoys the dorm. Plenty of people consider it nothing more than a place to sleep. But in doing so, they are missing out on the wonderful community within. My friends and I, on the other hand, wouldn’t trade it for the world.

At the end of the day, we have every right to be angry with the Office of Residential Life. We have every right to protest, and we absolutely should lobby to improve the quality of residential buildings. But it only hurts students when this frustration prohibits us from enjoying our community for a year of college. Instead, we should find comfort in the unique environment and endless memories that can be found in “bad” dorms, an experience that even your Wellness friends will miss out on. Know that, no matter how terrible your housing may seem, it can still feel like home – even Perkins

Eva Schiller ’25 can be reached at eva_schiller@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.



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