Limited Academic Building Hours Hamper Studies

Almost every night of the week for the first three weeks of the semester, sometime around midnight, I have looked at my incomplete homework and asked those around me, “Where do you want to go?” With roommates fast asleep in dark, stuffy dorm rooms, and the temperature low enough to see your breath tumble forward in the night air, most options are nonstarters. Inevitably, someone in the group will go down a list of suggestions — mostly comprising stained common rooms in dorm buildings where none of us live — and we will trek off in the cold, hoping that “our spot” has not yet been taken.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed in the lead-up to midterms, Oberlin, despite its academic rigor and demands, puts a cutoff time on its students’ ability to do work without disturbance. There is no guaranteed quiet place to study on campus. From Sunday to Thursday, Mary Church Terrell Main Library closes at midnight, while the Clarence Ward Art Library and the Science Library (neither of which are open on Sunday) close an hour earlier at 11 p.m. On Friday and Saturday, Terrell Main Library is only open until 8 p.m. and 6 p.m., respectively, while the Art and Science Libraries close at 5:30 p.m. on both days. From Monday through Thursday, King Building and Peters Hall close at 10:30 p.m., and the Science Center closes at 11 p.m.

As far as I know, the only buildings on campus that students have access to 24/7 are the dorm buildings. However, with the current limit on student housing leading to lounges being converted into dorm rooms, the amount of common space available within student housing has been minimized. This is all to say that despite the impressive size of this campus relative to how many students live here, it’s almost impossible to get a moment alone or a quiet place to study by yourself after hours in Oberlin if you don’t have a single-occupancy room.

To put a relatively small number of students in an even smaller space makes for an interesting mix of all the worst aspects of urban and rural living. The way I see it, the benefit of living in an urban environment is that you have a million neighbors and don’t have to know any of them; the benefit of living in a rural environment is that you don’t have any neighbors in the first place. 

At Oberlin, I would say that your average student (with the exception of those living in OSCA housing) does not know much about the person or people living on the other side of their drywall, save for what information they chose to write down on the little green slip taped to their door. Despite this, it seems as though we are all in a constant battle with each other for menial convenience. There’s a seemingly never-ending search for open desks, sofas, laundry machines, and practice rooms. There’s a constant scramble for the cleanest table in Stevenson Dining Hall, the best-working sink in the bathroom on your floor, the warmest and brightest spot in the library. 

Of course, the unfortunate truth is that, like most “simple fix” problems in Oberlin, what it comes down to is cost. It costs money to have people working in campus buildings late at night while fewer people sit in them. Institutions like Oberlin don’t want to run the risk of illegal activity occurring inside their facilities when they don’t have people there to operate them. According to ZipRecruiter, a campus security guard makes an average of 14 dollars and 50 cents an hour in the state of Ohio — that’s 116 more dollars a day if the College were to keep a space like Wilder Hall open for 24 hours.

However, while the added cost would undeniably exist, it would not be unprecedented. I know from speaking with students who began their Oberlin careers before the pandemic that Mudd used to be open until 2 a.m. For a space designed to be used as an area to study, I don’t think that bringing back old hours would be unreasonable — nor would the extension of library hours on weekends. I know that I personally use weekends as an opportunity to wake up late (the day I find myself in an upright position at 8 a.m. on a Saturday will be a grim one) and get my work done for the week ahead. I hate to admit it, but I rarely have anywhere to be on a Saturday until about 10 at night, so where should I go when the library closes at 6?  

I’m asking for this because I am a person who, for better or for worse, can not think of a time in the past four to five years when I have gone to bed before midnight for more than two nights in a row. I do all my work in the library under the harsh glare of an overhead LED light or the blue glow of a computer screen, and with my luck, I could accumulate over a hundred semesters in residence at this school and never be assigned a single-occupancy room. All I want is a little peace and quiet. Lying to security guards and cleaning staff about not noticing the time does not make me feel good — it’s embarrassing having to skulk out of a building into the cold night like a drunk seeking refuge when the pub finally closes. Not to be dramatic, but I really would just like one last drink.