Daymaker - a person who performs acts of kindness with the intention of making the world a better place.
~ David Wagner
, author of Life as a Daymaker; how to change the world by making someone's day ~

DayMaker - any thought, word, or deed that spreads happiness, compassion, or fruitful ideas.
~ Annis Cassells ~

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Fetching of Firsts, Part 5: First Dormitory Living

First Dormitory Living

On a high school field trip to the Eastern Michigan University campus, I knew right away that this was where I wanted to go to school. Known as the “first teachers’ college west of the Alleghenies,” Eastern’s programs attracted students from all over the United States. 

I filled out the application with the help of my teacher and mentor, Sophia Holley. She also proofread my application essay and pointed out my over-zealous use of Roget’s Thesaurus. I toned down that essay, making it sound like the real me, and submitted everything to the Admissions Office. It was the only college application I sent.

EMU was a mere 35 miles west of Detroit in Ypsilanti, Michigan, but it seemed like a long journey when I left home for my freshman year in January of 1961. I looked forward to experiencing the freedom and independence that living away from home would offer.

By today’s standards, there was little freedom or independence. The university rules required women’s dormitory entrance doors be locked at 10:30 pm. Each student resident had to be inside and available for nightly room check by the Resident Assistants. Men were allowed only in public areas, and if you sat on a sofa with a male friend, an RA might remind you, “Both feet on the floor.”

Our parents had to sign a “permission” card that instructed the dorm office staff on our freedoms and limitations. The form requested names of whom we could visit off-campus and asked whether we could have later hours on the weekends. Near the bottom of the card, there was a statement that read “up to the student’s judgment,” which my mother designated. Her faith in my ability to make those choices for myself filled me with pride and ensured I would be worthy of her trust. 

Though Buell Hall and all the rest of the dorms were integrated, actual living arrangements were still segregated. We submitted our photos with our dorm applications and were matched with roommates on the basis of race. There were more than 400 women assigned to Buell, a dozen of us black.

Ours was an all-freshman, ground-floor suite that housed me and three other students. Barbara and I shared one narrow bedroom that contained foot-to-foot twin beds and two closets. Shirley and Alberta co-existed in the other. A larger common study room with four built-in desks separated the two bedroom areas, and we had our own bathroom with shower.

Aside from a few petty squabbles, the four of us got along with each other. If one had to label us, we’d probably have been known as the nerd, the straight arrow, the baby, and the party girl. 

There was one incident that brought us up to be made an example before the entire residence hall. I’d brought a hot plate from home so we all could heat water for instant coffee, tea, and soups. We kept it on the bathroom counter. One evening, Alberta left it on, one or both of the other girls had noticed it, but said nothing. The hot plate remained on for several hours into the night, and by the time anyone realized it, the Formica counter top had melted. We were scared, embarrassed, and darn lucky that it wasn’t worse. So, of course, our mess-up was the subject of an unscheduled all-residents meeting, and we bore the expense of replacement counter top.

My sister ReeniƩ came for Little Sisters Weekend in the dorm. Eleven years old, she thought that dorm life was wonderful. The organizers had set up fun activities for the sisters to do together, and we had a terrific time.

Living in Buell Hall that first semester of college taught me about sharing and getting along with people who were not family. Maybe we didn’t share the same interests or values, but we could compromise or figure out some way that each could fulfill her needs. Dorm life was a valuable part of my growing up, and I am grateful to my parents for those lessons.

Remember the first time you were on your own?

~ xoA ~


  1. Hmm, I didn't actually get to be on my own until I moved out of my parents' house and into an apartment with one of my high school girlfriends at the age of 19. My parents, through my freshman year of college (I commuted, lived at home), refused to leave me home alone overnight. Ever. By the time I left, I was bursting at the seams. And I got into trouble - my girl friend turned out to be quite challenged as far as housekeeping, drinking, and men. I was naive and just let everybody in, figuring I could trust people my own age. We were lucky nothing truly terrible happened, but we only lasted about six months as roommates. I then got a place of my own (very tiny efficiency apartment), a full-time job with the State of Minnesota, and embarked on a bumpy ride towards finishing college.

    I am so glad my daughter is headed to the dorms at the U of MN this fall!

    1. What a great story, Kathleen. Thanks for sharing it. We sure do learn when we get out into the world, don't we. Best wishes to you and your daughter. xoA

  2. When I graduated high school my dad's job required that my family move away, so I ended up staying behind and going to college. Dorm life was an adventure. And in all likelihood a major factor in who I am today.

    1. Mark, I'm sure you're right about dorm life having such an influence on you. We learn so much about others, as well ourselves and our place in the world. Thanks for writing. xoA

  3. I moved out of my parent's house and got married. I really wasn't on my own until after my divorce. It was the first time I'd been alone, and as much as I loved it, I also hated it.

    I do have to ask, which one were you..."nerd, the straight arrow, the baby, or the party girl"?

    Great post Annis. Thanks for sharing these 'firsts' with us.

    1. My pleasure, Joan. I didn't live alone until I was in my 50s. All the other women in my family had, so I was a late loner. My younger daughter said, "When you leave ice cream in the freezer, it will still be there when you come back." She was right.

      Which one do you think I was? xoA

  4. First time on my own? As in away from the parents? Dorm living at Fresno State. My roommate had the mouth of a sailor and "rules" for when I was allowed to make noise (i.e. by typing). Not a happy time for me. Changed roommates the next year and had a room to myself! Hallelujah! All I had to do was keep my mouth shut when the roomie's mother called to talk to her...boyfriend? What boyfriend? Oh your daughter's just...out...somewhere...

    1. What an experience, Anna! I can imagine the relief at moving to a different living situation. Thanks for commenting. xoA

  5. Such a great post. I went to Butler University in Indianapolis. It was the first time I was alone away from my family. I had a Triple so I had 2 roommates. They were both white and one was so excited she had a black roommate. The other played soccer and had smelly feet. Yet it was the best year. I remember my Dad was worried because we had no curfews. I eventually found my lifelong best friend living 3 rooms down. One of my roommates ending up leaving due to health reason so my other roommate and I had a Triple with only 2 people. Good times!

  6. Good times, indeed, Donnee. Thanks for sharing your story. xoA

  7. The first time I lived on my own away from home? I was left alone at home quite often, you see.

    When I went to college, I remember filling out the roommate profile sheet. I am not, nor was I ever, a smoker. I remember contemplating that box and decided not to check either "yes" or "no." I feared getting someone too "straitlaced" but hoped he wouldn't be an actual smoker. He was definitely not straitlaced, and he loved to smoke. Though a freshman, Wil was a year older than I because he had attended a dozen or schools throughout New England in pursuit of a prep school that would be, shall we say, tolerant of his smoking habits? (This was 1973). He was a Connecticut kid who thought he'd hit the jackpot with a San Francisco native. Oops. Not the fellow Dead Head he'd imagined I'd be.

    Nonetheless, the cross-pollination theory worked marvelously. We had tons of acquaintances and dorm mates in common, but settled on different sets of true friends. All of which made for long, excited discussions way into the night that began with: "What'd you do today?" It was a blast.

    1. Sounds like a terrific experience for you. I think "cross-pollination" works to everyone's advantage. Thanks so much for sharing your story. xoA