Stumble into any intermediate law or political science lecture and you will be greeted with many things: righteous opinions, hipster glasses, battalions of Macbooks (they travel in packs). But you will also hear murmurings from the professor of a “social contract,” concocted by Socrates and Locke and all those dead white guys we adore so much. Now if you aren’t busy zoning out or silently cursing the gods for Flappy Bird, you may notice this “social contract” isn’t simply a Constitutionalist mantra; it’s a prevalent aspect of underclassmen life. I am, of course, referring to dorm life, the act of sacrificing perfect liberty for lofted beds, no air conditioning and random fire drills.
Sure, it’s not all bad. Your bathrooms are cleaned, you don’t have to travel too far to get your laundry done and you are surrounded by a conglomerate of people in a similar phase of life as you. This was particularly true at the beginning of my first semester freshman year, when everyone had the wide-eyed, glazed-over look of puppies dropped off at the kennel, a sense of abandonment and terror mixed with the excitement of a new environment and endless possibilities. Dorms, and more particularly dorm floors, band together to form communities with their own social contracts, most of which have the same foundation: no privacy.
No privacy in the bathroom, rarely in your room and really nowhere else. It’s true that human beings are social creatures and thrive off interaction with one another, but what happens when your privacy is restricted for months at a time? It’s the opposite of solitary confinement; instead of peeling white walls, distant screams and questionable meals on trays, you have…well, you have all those things combined with the constant fear of your towel slipping off while you make the run between the bathroom and your dorm room and other Murphy’s Law scenarios looming in the back of your mind.
To understand all the potential psychological trauma associated with a lack of privacy, one must consider why privacy is important in the first place. Most of the time we associate “privacy” with mundane, daily acts, like changing clothes, going to the bathroom or maybe finishing up some homework. All these actions involve certain vulnerability; whether you’re concerned that someone will slyly Snapchat a picture of you naked or worried you won’t be able to trudge through math problems without complete susceptibility to distraction. Privacy is when you do not have to worry about others infiltrating your personal sphere.
And it is only when we are isolated that we are allowed to reflect from a unique perspective: our own. Privacy is where you can be alone with your thoughts, where you can process everything you experience without the disruption of a chronic sniffler in the library or someone listening to Kendrick just a wee bit too loudly. It is where the anxiety, expectations and bustle inflicted from the outside world can be distilled into a hot cup of tea and drunk with hints of chai.
This act of reflection is necessary for a happy and enriching existence, and it can be seriously stunted in a dorm setting. It’s not an insult to your friends or indicative of being antisocial. It’s part of being a human being, introvert or extrovert.
So we’ve established the profound fact that dorm life sucks sometimes. The question remains: What is to be done about it? Most students claim either Lakeshore or Southeast as their home for at least one year, if not more. Also, roommate culture certainly does not end when you leave university housing.
The key is finding a way to reap the benefits of self-reflection and letting your guard down outside the walls of the dorm. In other words, replicating the effects of “privacy” without literal privacy. It could be in a library, coffee shop, Chipotle, Bascom (when it isn’t an arctic precipice), a friend’s apartment, the handicap stall or during a long walk or run.
Find a place where you can emulate the “sexy loner” vibe of Ernest Hemingway with the modern stylings and wisdom of Solange Knowles. Embrace that inner Zen through knitting. Read an embarrassing young adult dystopian novel and don’t feel guilty about it. Write a poem no one will ever read. Check the stats for that team you would never admit to liking for fear of Packer retribution. Ponder the majesty of the universe and then try not to laugh at Doge memes.
In other words, capture those moments of seldom meditation and carry them with you until you can once again close a physical door on the outside. You may still have to fight for your right to watch excessive amounts of curling on the communal dorm television, but at least you’ll be a more gratified person while doing it.
Audrey Piehl ([email protected]) is freshman majoring in history.