Discrepancies in Quality Between First-Year Dorms Need to be Addressed

It’s no secret that there is a large discrepancy in the quality of different first-year dorms at Oberlin. While some have air conditioning, several lounges, and pool tables, others have hot, sticky rooms, broken toilets, and clogged shower drains.

“Out of the six sinks on my floor, only three of them currently work,” College first-year Margot Jones, a resident of Barrows Hall, explained. She went on to describe other faulty facilities, including clogged shower drains and scarce washing machines. Another Barrows resident, College first-year Anjali Blacker, summarized the residence hall in a single word: “Dingy.”

Conversely, College first-year Sylvie Cove, a resident of Kahn Hall, described her dorm as “beautiful and modern.” While Cove enjoys the luxury dorm life Kahn provides her, she admires Barrows and other second-rate dorms for their well-established communities. 

“I often go to other dorms for social events, and other people come here for AC,” Cove said.

The lack of AC in dorms like Barrows has contributed heavily to the fostering of a strong community. On particularly hot days, residents like myself convene in the cool lobby or on North Quad to escape the heat of our stuffy rooms. This forced socialization means that friendships have developed quickly among first-years living in Barrows. 

“We bonded over the heat and the poor ventilation,” College first-year Luke Dodson explained.

Most other dorms on campus have similarly varying levels of quality. For example, Dascomb Hall has some recently installed amenities, including an air conditioning system and ceiling fans, but some residents still wish that there were more washing machines.

This year’s first-year class is the largest in Oberlin history. This has created an evident housing crisis on campus. Rooms meant to house two people sometimes house three, former lounges are now makeshift living spaces, and some students arrived on campus not knowing where they would be staying.

In all fairness, the pandemic and  the mass deferral of student admissions in the past few years likely contributed to this crisis, but it is the responsibility of the school to provide safe, comfortable, and clean housing for all students. After all, many of us are paying tens of thousands of dollars to attend Oberlin. While it is upsetting for there to be such major differences in facilities and living situations, more upsetting is the fact that all students living in traditional housing pay the same rate. This means that students living in small, hot rooms with no real amenities besides the bare necessities still pay the large housing fee that students living with pool tables, music practice rooms, functional vending machines, and robust kitchens are paying. 

There has been talk of constructing a new first-year residence hall within the next few years, which could easily be a solution to the housing crisis, particularly if a high rate of enrollment continues to be an issue in the following years. 

There are many amenities featured in current dorms that should be incorporated into the new dorm. The Dascomb ceiling fans are more sustainable than AC and can create a cool breeze in the room rather than simply making the room cold. The wide, open lobby in Barrows has made for many a late-night meet-and-greet with residents from other halls. Each hall has its perks, and the new building should draw inspiration from all of them.

Ultimately, what really matters in a dorm? I’ve been living in Barrows for two weeks now, and I think of my dorm, however grimy and humid, as my home. It’s where my stuff is, and it’s where my friends are. However irritating it may be to wake up covered in layers of sweat or to be unable to shower because of massive balls of hair in the drains, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. 

It’s about the community, and it’s about the people. And your college experience is only going to be as good as you make it. So, to all my fellow Barrows residents and anyone else who may be struggling with their dorms: they may have AC, but we have character.