Like fingernails on a blackboard, this word sends shutters up and down the spines of most housing and residence life professionals around the country.
The word dorm, or dormitory, is rooted in the Latin language as the word dormire. Thank you Father Sanders for all of the free Latin lessons during Global Issues class. As it relates to this particular topic, it simply means a place to sleep. As a visual learner, I associate the images and atmosphere of the film Dead Poet’s Society with “old school” dormitory life on college campuses. This film depicted a very rigid environment devoid of free will and apathy toward student development and presents what I believe to be a pretty strong representation of how things used to be on many of our campuses. Through this depiction, I can readily understand why colleges and universities went in search of another descriptor for campus housing.
Fast forward to the present day. Sleep is one of the least occurring phenomenons in the residence halls of the modern day college campus. Anyone that has had the unique privilege of being a live-in member of a housing staff knows that life does indeed go on after quiet hours begin and visitation ends. Once again, as a visual learner, I associate the sometimes-exaggerated images and atmosphere of the films Road Trip, Old School, Dead Man on Campus, Van Wilder, Son-in-Law and Real Genius with today’s campus living environment. These films affirm, among many other things that life does not cease to exist in modern-day campus housing when the sun goes down. Through these depictions and my own professional experience, I find it hard to believe that a simple change in terminology led to such a significant paradigm shift.
Well, obviously, it didn’t. As Dr. Gregory Blimling illustrates in his writings, the evolution of campus housing and college life in general has been going on for decades. What once was a single-minded approach to teaching and learning has yielded to multi-faceted methodologies, mediums and learning outcomes for today’s college students. Emphasis on co-curricular education and the benefits of a holistic education have elevated the work of student affairs professionals to the point of almost being equals with their faculty counterparts. As a collective body, today’s students are leaving college better prepared and moving into the working world having been taught academic skills in the classroom and life skills beyond the classroom; i.e. the residential setting. For this reason and many others, I find it somewhat absurd to have the reaction that we do towards the use of the word dorm. As long as the residents feel as if their dorm or residence hall is their home away from home, it doesn’t matter what they call it. Why should it matter to us?
From day one of my college experience at Wheeling Jesuit University, I was taught inside and outside of the classroom not to place emphasis on labels, but to look within the person or thing for true meaning and understanding. I have been in residence halls that have the warmth and charm of an intensive care unit and I have been in dorms that feel like the family living room. In our quest to further legitimize our purpose and status to the faculty side of the house, I think we have come to place far too much emphasis on the frivolous and not enough on the basic.
Back to Basics”! It is certainly time…
Submitted by Jason Gross, Assistant Dean of Student Life, Defiance College