As the second semester of senior year rolls around, high school students begin receiving acceptance letters, setting up financial aid and signing up for housing. Some students choose to live the good life—commuting to campus in favor of home-cooked meals and mom still doing the laundry. The more adventurous will sign a lease to an apartment, ready for independence. The majority, however, will end up in a dorm, rooming with a friend-of-a-friend or a person they seemed compatible with on Facebook.
Since the beginning of four-year universities, dorm life has simply been a part of the equation. Sharing a tiny room with no personal space and never feeling quite at home is glorified as the “freshman experience.” In fact, many schools actually require students to buy a meal plan and live in a dorm to ensure connectedness to the campus along with academic success. While many students are happy to indulge in this rite of passage, there are also a good number of residents who experience extreme stress, anxiety and discomfort caused by the dorm life.
Living In A Dorm Can Be Damaging To Your Mental Health
For those suffering from social anxiety or depression among other physical and mental illnesses, it can be a near impossible feat to adjust to living with another person. It isn’t just a matter of privacy or inconvenience anymore, it is a matter of mental health.
“I feel like I would enjoy college more if I wasn’t forced to live on campus for the first year,” says freshman Maisen Scott said. “Living on campus has not been the best for me.”
Constantly coming up with small talk to avoid those awful moments of silence with a roommate, having no escape except for immediate campus surroundings (where there are constantly people), and not being able to recharge alone can be incredibly stressful. Having this constant pressure can make it very hard for students to adjust and thrive during the first year of school.
“It can get quite lonely, even though I’m never really alone,” says Scott. “It has greatly affected my mental health to live here. So much so that I’m having to withdraw this semester.”
Some people live for socialization and are delighted by the idea of having a built-in BFF and sleepovers every night. This is not the case for everyone. It is not fair to pigeonhole students into this category.
Dorm Rooms, Waitlists, Meal Plans, Oh My!
With the true genius that is Pinterest, there are tons of DIY projects and tips on how to make your dorm room more comfortable, a sanctuary and safe place. But in reality, a fluffy rug and monogrammed bedspread do little to disguise the fact that there is no true way to make living in a box feel like home. It will pretty much always feel like you’re living in a hotel (a cute, personalized hotel, but nonetheless, a hotel). Trying to make a room function as a kitchen, living room and bedroom is a challenge, at best. This can be fun and exciting, but it can also be exhausting to live somewhere that you never truly feel the comfort of home in.
For a small, but still existent, percentage of residents, living on campus and having a meal plan can be detrimental to student health. While UNT does a great job of offering a large variety of food options, it can be hard to healthfully sustain yourself on a salad bar and a gluten-free panini.
“While living on campus, I was a vegetarian, and also being gluten intolerant and unable to eat dairy, my choices were very slim,” says sophomore Ela Kayembe. “Then Mean Greens started serving seitan and that was very scary for me because it is pure gluten.”
If you’ve noticed recently, the ovens were removed from the residence halls. With many appliances banned, it can be very hard to cook for yourself if you have a strict or limited diet.
“Basically my choices were very slim, and months of eating just rice and mashed potatoes started catching up with me,” says Kayembe. “I had to start eating meat again because I was getting sick. I shouldn’t have to go to an all-you-can-eat cafeteria and leave hungry.”
With the only options for residents is to eat in a dining hall or make something in a microwave, students with special dietary needs can have a very tough time getting the nutrition they need.
“I think it’s a problem UNT that is telling students, ‘Hey you have to come and live here, but we’re not going to insure that all your basic needs are met.’” Kayembe says.
Perhaps the largest problem is the fact that there is not enough on-campus housing. How can you be required to live in a dorm if there isn’t enough space for everyone? This year alone, there was a huge amount of students in the housing queue waiting for rooms. A tweet was sent in June to the UNT Housing account saying, [sic] “trying to sign up for housing but the page will not allow me to select ANY halls, help.” To which the UNT Housing account responded that all the halls had been filled. Rawlins Hall was expected to be honors-only, and has the price tag to show for it, but it was forced to allow overflow students. The school is growing rapidly, and as it is making the transition from primarily commuters to on-campus residents, students are being left behind.
The Freedom To Choose
It’s time to take a hint from A&M and other campuses all over the country, and allow freshmen to choose their own housing arrangements. Each individual is different, and living in an apartment is sometimes a much healthier option in all aspects. College is about having independence, learning how to be an adult and finding our own paths. Where you live and how you pay for it is a huge part of that, and it is not the school’s job to make that decision for its students. Is forcing freshman to live on campus is really the best option?