Living on Campus

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Illustration by Erin Holt '13

CATEGORY: Student Life
TYPE: Articles

This month more than 540 first-year students will move into Dupre, Turck, and Doty residence halls. Seth Loeffler-Kemp '17 (Duluth, Minn.) was in their shoes a year ago, and remembers how confused he felt those first few days in his new surroundings: Campus seemed huge, he forgot what side of Dupre his room was on, and he mispronounced the residence hall's name until an older student gently corrected him.

His best advice for a smooth transition? Embrace the unofficial open-door policy that helped him settle into life at Mac. "Stick a shoe in your door and play some cool music while you're doing homework, and people will come in and talk," he says of his Dupre experience. "I really liked that openness because it felt so welcoming. It sent the message that we all wanted to get to know each other."

What to bring (and what to leave home)

Before they even arrive on campus, first-year students have to tackle one of the most daunting tasks of college: packing. It’s easy to overpack, say current Mac students, but try to avoid it. “There's a temptation to think you must stuff your entire life into these boxes—which means you'll bring more than you need to," says Joe Klein '16 (Webster Groves, Mo.), who traded summer clothes for winter ones on a mid-year trip back home.

That applies to room decorations, too. Even though Riccardo Madalozzo '15 (Arsie, Italy) was limited to whatever suitcases he could check on an overseas flight, he still managed to bring along plenty of pictures and decorations he never displayed. Err on the side of fewer decorations, he advises. Tae Martin '16 (Rockport, Ind.) cautions against letting nostalgia dictate what you pack: "You think you need all four years of high school yearbooks, but you don't. People want to bring all their photos—a couple are great, but you don't need to bring all of them."

Even practical items can seem unnecessary after unpacking. Amy Lebowitz '15 (Pittsburgh, Pa.) quickly realized that having a computer lab down the hall from her Dupre room eliminated her need for a private printer. Martin's mom wanted her to bring along an ironing board and iron. "I told her it would just sit there unused, and it did," she says. "Ironing boards are not that important."

So which items turned out to be unexpectedly helpful?

  • Whiteboards and bulletin boards are a must for messages, says Martin.

  • A kitchen tool or two. All first-year students begin the year on Macalester's full meal plan, but a few tools can be helpful. "I really like cheese, so I brought a tiny cutting board and one cheese knife," says Lebowitz. "You don't think to bring lots of kitchen supplies, but that came in handy so often. Cheese is a great study food."

  • A fan (or two) for warm days, says Martin.

  • Hooks and 3M Command Strips to hang items without using nails. "The less glamorous things are what you'll really need. I used hooks and Command Strips to hang up so much stuff: belts, towels, and coats,"  says Karlyn Russell '17 (Madison, Wis.).

  • Snacks. "You can never have enough snacks," says Lebowitz.

Room design

On move-in day, Lebowitz—a self-described nester—was so focused on decorating her Dupre room that she forgot to make friends. But whether it's on the first day or over a few weeks, start transforming your room into your own space, students suggest. For Lebowitz, that meant bringing lots of pillows and hanging up a beloved tapestry. "Cover the walls as much as possible with things you love," she says.

Creating that space may also include reconfiguring it based on your own preferences—and that can take time to figure out. Russell and her roommate lined up their beds against one wall to free up space in the rest of the room. Klein lofted his bed to fit a desk underneath and added a floor lamp to avoid using the overhead lights. As for Madalozzo, his immediate reaction was, "'Bunk beds—no way!' If you don't like bunk beds, ask for help and take them down," he says. Before Klein's sophomore year, he bought a couch from Craigslist and squeezed it into his Bigelow double, which encouraged friends to hang out in their room.

After the initial arrangements and decorations are in place, try to keep your room organized, say veteran dorm residents. "It’s easy when you live by yourself to throw stuff all over the place," Russell says. But keeping your desk organized can make it a lot easier to track down important papers. Martin, for example, used thumbtacks and her bulletin board to make sure she didn't lose her ticket to the Dalai Lama's visit to campus.

Where to go

Even when you maximize group space in your individual room, residence hall community spaces will always be key gathering spots. Madalozzo urges new students to remember the various communal kitchens, which he regrets not using more when he lived on campus. Lounges, found on nearly every floor, are good spots for studying, watching movies, and finding out who else is awake at 3 a.m. (Klein's Turck 3 floormates captured the lounge's function well when they hung a "Welcome to the living room" sign there.) Although Martin didn't live in 30 Mac as a sophomore, she spent a lot of time there because two of her friends did. "I got to know everyone else on the floor by default," she says. "People were always in the lounge. Toward the end of the year, two other girls and I were staples in 30 Mac, and none of us actually lived there."

Russell noticed those ad hoc communities, too. "Every year there are a few floors that are especially close, and their lounges are always busy," she says. "Figure out where those floors are and make yourself a part of them."

Adjusting to life at Mac

Life in the residence halls includes lots of changes, but there are ways to make the transition smoother:

  • Direct communication is key when it comes to getting along with roommates, whether the conversation is about setting the thermostat or sorting out schedules. "Communication is really important when things are going well and when things aren't going well," Loeffler-Kemp says.

  • Reach out to your Residential Assistant (RA). "Get to know the RAs. They may be a bit older than you, but they're students, too, and they're in the same boat," says Madalozzo.

  • Don't overthink your expectations. "If you go in there and make an effort to be part of the community, you'll do fine," says Klein.

  • Remember the big picture. "Embrace the proximity and community,” says Lebowitz. “When you're living this close to other people, it's really easy to get fed up with the noise and lack of privacy. But this is also probably the first and last time in your life you’ll be living in the same building with half your friends. Take advantage of that.”

PUBLISHED: 08/06/2014