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 Reenié 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 ~