At most English universities, the suggestion that students share bedrooms — ever — is shocking. “We would never make you do that,” an Oxford professor earnestly told my friend, a prospective student, when we took a tour of Worcester College. “You have to live with other people?” asked an administrator at Yale’s own Paul Mellon Centre. “How can you learn?”
I actually don’t think that sharing a room is that terrible. I’ve lived with two different roommates these past two years, and it’s been fine, nothing like the horror stories that I’ve grown up with. Think of television’s “Felicity,” who endured life with Megan, a crazy Satan-worshipping Goth-type, year after year. It could be worse for us.
Then again, Felicity and Megan shared a huge room in the middle of New York City, with big wooden beds, gorgeous windows on two walls and their very own closets. Even though Megan was totally gross, their room always looked clean. College life seemed positively charming, and sharing space came with the territory.
I knew at the start of my life at Yale that I had room draws and housing problems in my future. I also knew that, as the April 4 Yale Daily News editorial pointed out, our wonderful residential college system must come at some cost. So after freshman year, I kissed my Farnam single goodbye and said hello to a tiny double in the notorious block of Jonathan Edwards College entryways known as the sophomore slums.
With our beds bunked, my roommate and I barely had space for desks and dressers. We shared a tiny closet. After a while we realized that cleaning was almost futile, since in JE dust and grime appear everywhere, seeping up from loose floorboards and through cracks in the walls, as if by magic. One of our windows didn’t shut, which made for a cold winter and a very wet spring. The bathroom, despite the luxurious promise of bi-weekly cleanings, was always too dirty to shower barefoot or to allow my toothbrush to touch any surface.
Most of my classmates in JE will be horrified that I’m complaining about my room that year, since, thanks to an exodus of seniors moving off-campus (no doubt fed up with the cramped quarters), my two suitemates and I were able to appropriate a quad for use as a triple. Compared to most sophomore suites, in which roommates have to move desks into the common rooms just to fit the bunk beds, it was palatial.
With this in mind, and always recognizing my good fortune in roommates, I spent the year convincing myself that our room was great, dust bunnies and all. I could put up with a small double, once. I’m not a successful adult yet. College students — especially sophomores, for heaven’s sake — can deal with a little squalor.
What a blow to find that, junior year, my double room was almost exactly the same. We were out of the slums, but back to the bunk beds and the tiny closet, and this time the window was so faulty that I had to stuff an old sheet into the cracks to prevent the autumn drafts from freezing my fingers as they typed at my desk. Twice, unannounced, repairmen showed up to “fix” the windows, but managed to accomplish nothing more than screwing useless new latches onto some of our windows, and seeing me naked but for a towel — a story too gratuitous to merit elaboration.
Even all this didn’t strike me as much to complain about until I came to London for the spring semester and was handed the keys to a comfortable apartment in a safe, central neighborhood. Granted, Yale-in-London subsidizes student housing, but I still don’t see how we can have really splendid living arrangements in one of the most expensive cities in the world, while our peers in New Haven, where Yale already owns everything, are struggling just to stay warm and find a place to shelve their books.
It’s not a matter of sharing space; it’s a matter of having a space that’s clean and livable. It’s hard to accept on-campus housing for the squalor that it is when, year after year, I’m told that it’ll get better and it just doesn’t. It’s hard to accept that, now that the drama of my last room draw has blown over, I face another in a suite that I would never pay for in the real world. (This time it’s a garret-style double in the attics of the sophomore slums.)
I love my residential college. JE has given me summer fellowships, great leadership opportunities and perks in the way of swanky lunches, cultural outings and various other educational ventures. If it weren’t for all this, I would have moved off campus as soon as I was allowed. But I don’t want to live off campus, and that’s where the real dilemma is introduced. The inducements to live on campus at Yale are, as the admissions office will assure you, great. The University has an obligation to bring the quality of student rooms up to the level of student life.
If I sound petulant, you can bet that it’s intentional. I think that it’s time we complain about Yale housing (especially, but not exclusively, of the unrenovated variety), because it sucks. There are some good rooms, yes, but we’re generally expected to deal with the squalor of student life. Ironic, that students who are encouraged to produce operas, appreciate organic dining hall food, and regularly attend gallery openings are also expected to live with leaks, drafts, athlete’s foot and a menagerie of critters. Don’t you think?
Helen Vera is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. She is abroad in London for the semester.