Successful Dorm Living
If this is your first time in a college dorm living situation, here are ten commandments to keep in mind.
Ah, college days. Many young people cannot wait until they arrive at the University of BigCity or dear old SmallTown College. No more repressive curfews to follow, no parental supervision, no restrictions on food or clothing choices. There can be no doubt that a college dorm offers all sorts of possibilities for those who choose to live on campus. But dorm life is not always about midnight pizza parties and Animal House reruns. It's a small, closed society with its own set of rules, and some of these unspoken and unwritten 'rules' can sneak up on unsuspecting students who have never lived in such a fishbowl environment before. Here are ten commandments for successful adjustment to the heady world of dorm living.
1. Thou shalt not covet thy roommate's food, clothes or CDs. This is a common source of friction between new roommates who have not established 'acceptable use' rules. Unless you have a concrete understanding of where you stand with your new roommate, stay away from his or her goodies. You're never going to be as sneaky as you think you are, and once the trust between roommates has been violated, it can be a very long semester indeed. Ask before borrowing anything, until you have had time to establish the ground rules.
2. Honor thy Dorm Daddy and Dorm Mommy. Commonly referred to as RAs (resident advisors), these are the people who will pull your butt out of the fire most consistently. No, they are not necessarily your friends, but they have keys to your room when you don't. They aren't that much older than you, and they are generally in the RA business for the money. RELAX. Contrary to popular belief, most RAs are not looking forward to busting every scofflaw they see. University policy defines the rules by which dorm residents must adhere, not the RAs. If you are under legal age and are caught with an alcoholic beverage, what did you really EXPECT would happen to you? RAs can be great sources of campus wisdom, so make an effort to respect their authority in exchange.
3. Remember thy phone messages, and keep them holy. If your particular dorm has direct phone lines to each and every occupant, you're way ahead of the game. Many campus dorms only provide a minimal amount of 'house phones', which connect directly to the campus switchboard, and a few public payphones. Their numbers are often given out as contact information. If you are in a position to take a phone message for an absent dorm resident, take that responsibility seriously.
Some foreign students or those from another state may be expecting long-distance phone calls that cannot be made again. The information you provide may be critical. Don't offer your own editorial comments when you are caught in a 'delicate' situation. It's not your problem, so just take the message to the intended party. Many dorm fights are caused by outside interferences in a private situation.
4. Cleanliness is darn close to Godliness. Forget those stereotypes of the 'slacker dorm room'. This is your home for the next few years, and things tend to pile up when you least expect it. No one expects hospital-level sanitation, but make an effort to keep a traffic area flowing in your room. Old Janitor Joe has seen your type come and go longer than you've been alive, so don't get on his bad side. If you need cleaning supplies or a new garbage bag, ask Joe. If you see a pile of food containers or other trash in a common area, don't wait for Joe to come around. Disorganized is one thing, completely unsanitary is another.
5. Keep thy friends close, thine enemies even closer. While a college dorm environment can foster some wonderful friendships, not everyone will dig your stuff. Some friction is inevitable when you have so many people living in such close quarters. You may have accidentally offended the guy down the hall with your loud music, or the Bostonian in room 413 may not appreciate your South Carolinian ways. Whatever the root cause of the tension, you need to keep it tolerable. Avoid those situations where conflict may be present. Stay with your established friends and avoid looking for trouble. Maybe you and Boston will eventually get along, maybe you won't. Dealing with those who don't like you can be just as much of a learning experience as the time you spend with people who do care about you.
6. Thou shalt respect the studious ones. As difficult as some may find it to believe, occasionally there are students who came to college for learning. You may be one of them. When you discover the studying student in his or her natural environment, best leave well enough alone. You'd expect the same courtesy when you find time for your own studies.
7. Seek out the education majors, and offer aid. If your college offers an Education degree, be prepared for a sudden influx of tape, paper, staples, paint, markers and other grade school art supplies towards the end of each semester. This is not playtime, this is serious graded business. If you ever wanted to make new friends in a hurry,
offer your craft services to any and all Education majors.
8. Thou shalt change roommates at appropriate times. Every once in a while, you may find yourself assigned to a room with someone whose entire lifestyle is incompatible with yours. They may worship Baal, or barely escaped incarceration because of a 'hung jury'. If your roommate is one living 'conflict of interests' for you, be as diplomatic as you can in their presence- they may have long memories. Contact the appropriate housing authority and explain your concerns. If an immediate switch can be made, do it with little fanfare. If the switch cannot be made until the next term, you'll have to find some level of compromise with your roommate. No one expects you to be friends with him or her, just gut this one out.
9. Thou shalt not violate co-ed dorm policies. If you happen to live in a co-ed dorm, try not to look at it as a kid assigned to a candy store. Rest assured, many members of the opposite sex will not share your worldview. Men and women are usually assigned different floors and separate facilities. Definitive rules concerning visitations are posted. RAs are especially forceful where violators are concerned. Respect the rights of the opposite sex, and try to foster healthy relationships that aren't sexually motivated. Come across as a pervert trying to invade their space, and you'll be shut out of their floor forever. Just be a decent and self-controlled person, and you may be invited to a few home-cooked meals or co-ed movie nights.
10. Thou shalt not keep thy true feelings hidden.
College life can be very stressful, and living in a fishbowl environment doesn't make it any easier.
If you find that some element of your life has become uncontrollable or especially stressful, find someone who will listen. Living amongst a group of near-strangers while enduring a serious personal crisis can inhibit a healthy release of pressure. You may feel alone, and sense that these people who surround you are not sympathetic to your situation. Unfortunately, suicides among college students are not uncommon. If you sense that another dorm resident may be suffering from depression or other sign of trouble, try to be a supportive ear. Even if they don't respond to your gesture, at least you've let them know that they are not without friends. Point them towards professional help. Many campuses sponsor peer-counseling programs for just such situations.