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Spring in the halls of Saint Mary’s

| Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Regardless of the Midwest’s inability to commit to a change in season, it’s officially spring! The birds are singing, the spring athletes are sport-ing and students are knocking on doors in the residence halls of Saint Mary’s.

Yep, that’s a certain sign of spring. In the last few weeks, the annual tradition of surveying prospective rooms in Le Mans and Holy Cross Hall has been taken up once again. Rising sophomores, juniors and seniors tackled the project with varying degrees of zeal as the room selection lottery drew near. 

The advantages and disadvantages of each dorm are debated with regards to ceiling height, walking distance to different key buildings, tunnel access, whether or not the room has a sink and more. Room dimensions are poured over and preference lists are made. 

And new this semester, everyone’s thoughts about the upcoming interclass housing has buzzed its way into the conversation. But that’s not necessarily what I want to talk about today.

The thing about the dorms at Saint Mary’s is that the beautiful old buildings that serve as residence halls hold a special challenge: no two rooms are the same. This gives each hall a wonderful personality because it reminds those who move in each year of the rich history of the buildings (including the resident ghosts … they’re mostly friendly. I promise). 

Take Le Mans Hall, for example. While it’s not the oldest building on campus (that would be the stately Holy Cross Hall), it’s a patchwork of floors, wings and rooms that all used to serve different purposes. To my knowledge, many rooms were indeed meant to house the women who lived and learned here. In the Infirmary Wing, the rooms were, well, infirmary rooms. Then there’s the East and West Mains, Library Wing, the Annexes, Queen’s Court under the chapel and the fifth floor with the largest singles but only accessible by stairs. Some rooms have no sinks; some have sinks. Some even have a full bathroom attached. Some have little hallways or no closets (just odd little wall niches with clothes rods) or fireplaces — nonfunctional, of course. I’m sure there are still quite a few quirks of which I’m unaware.

I know of these wonderful idiosyncrasies because my roommate and I also took part in the tradition. We met over a period of days to walk each wing of Le Mans last year, knocking on doors of the rooms we’d marked off on the room dimensions list. 

Oh, the dimensions list —the red herring of room selection. 

I’m not sure how this all works over at Holy Cross or Notre Dame, but here the list of room dimensions, in addition to the floor plan, is the starting point for this whole process and the reason for wandering the halls alongside the ghosts.

It may be a generalization, but no matter what amenities or arrangements each room offers, the most heavily weighted factor of room selection is square footage. 

Bigger is better, says the student. It’s nearly an unspoken agreement that the goal of this annual tradition is to claim the biggest room you can after the first year initiation of living in the little copy-and-pasted dorm rooms of McCandless or Regina Hall. (I guess not next year, though … it’ll be interesting, that’s for sure).

You see, the size is also the trickiest part of the whole shebang. Those dimensions listed on that PDF, wherever they were taken, are often misleading. The numbers aren’t false, as far as I know, but what they fail to describe is how the square footage of each room is distributed between the room proper, the closets and the little nooks and crannies. A room may claim an attractive number, but the reality of the layout might be an awkward set up of an immovable built-in vanity, a sink with an unnecessary door and closets that just aren’t big enough to fit the two dressers, so a desk gets shoved in there instead in order to walk a decent path through the room.

The more I think about it, this all seems like quite a task for college students bogged down by other GPA-affecting duties. I know most Belles will readily admit this, too, and yet we still do it. 

So why the effort? We’re not suffering in smaller rooms, not by any heavy meaning of the word. Most of the time we’re not even uncomfortable. We may have roommate squabbles, mostly contained in our first year, but we are blessed with a place to live, seemingly unlimited drinkable water, easily accessible food, indoor plumbing, etc. You get the picture. Forgive my little soapbox moment, please. 

Maybe our hunt for the bigger catch is an internalized material priority, maybe it’s a leftover reflex from sibling squabbles, maybe it’s just a basic human instinct to find comfort, and we’ve associated comfort with space — who knows? I’m sure you have a few guesses yourself, dear reader. Maybe we just like discovering a few more residential hall secrets. 

While it may be trivial to some and defining to others, I don’t think it will cease. We still need some sign of spring with all these gray skies! And I’m curious to see if the interclass housing will influence the springtime wanderings of the Belles.

Madeline Law is a Saint Mary’s junior from Petoskey, Michigan. She studies English literature and communication studies with a minor in theater. If you can find her, she’ll either be adding books to scattered to-read lists or re-reading old favorites. Reach her at [email protected] and send book suggestions.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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