Summer is imminent and in the coming fall I will begin my senior year. In the midst of finals I received a few emails from Oberlin housing reminding me that I needed to apply to my housing of choice in my last year. Though the housing selection process is inherently a stressful one, while scrolling through all housing options online I realized that sharing my Oberlin housing experiences could be helpful for incoming students or even for students who already attend Oberlin. So, as someone whose college experience was disrupted by COVID and often switched housing by semester instead of year, I present to you all the spaces I have lived in at Oberlin College.
Before arriving at Oberlin my freshman year I knew no one. No alumni from my high school had attended Oberlin in the last five years, I didn’t have a facebook and therefore had no connection to the incoming class facebook groups, and there was no older brother of a friend’s cousin who attended Oberlin three years ago to offer meager advice. In short, I was entering college blindly. When it came time to select housing a few months before moving in, the dorm names meant nothing to me. I opted to be assigned to a freshman dorm. There are three: Dascomb, Barrows, and Kahn. Kahn required an additional application because the recently built dorm is extremely environmentally friendly. Thus, everyone living in the space must share the same environmental values. I didn’t fill out the Kahn application, but I did opt to be randomly assigned a roommate. Late August arrives and I discover I have been placed in Dascomb room 301 with someone named Greer Hobbs.
Dascomb was what you would expect when you hear the words “freshman dorm” and in that sense it was perfect. At times the hallways were smelly, the doors were semi decorated with those little whiteboards you can write notes on, and there was often some general hubbub coming from downstairs or a common room. Room 301 was located directly in front of a kitchen with a sink, full-sized shared fridge and a microwave, which was surprisingly helpful when leftover snacks had no place to be stored in our room. I think my shared space with Greer was the shining star of my freshman year living experience. We eventually moved all the furniture around, installed faux curtains, covered the place in silly art and shared trinkets and made an unspoken pact to never ever turn on the overhead lighting. In all its fluorescent glory, the light never came on. Instead, the place was strung with little lanterns and christmas lights and a gloriously gaudy gold lamp we found at a secondhand store. Though stinky was sometimes the most applicable word for Dascomb, I would recommend it as a freshman dorm. Everyone arrived equally enthused to make friends, our RAs were beyond kind to us, and there was always something exciting happening a couple doors down. The Dascomb camaraderie was strong my first year, and was exactly what I needed when I was feeling homesick or dealing with the general trials and tribulations of settling into college.
Midway through the second half of my freshman year COVID forced us out of Dascomb and back home until the next fall, when I tentatively moved into Harkness. I’m not quite sure how this happened, if I had signed up to live in Harkness before the pandemic or if I thought it would still be running as a co-op when I arrived, but when I moved in the fall of my sophomore year the space was treated as a dorm and run by the college. I liked the size of my room and the big built-in closets, but my experience in Harkness does no justice to the co-op because co-ops were not up and running during the height of the pandemic. When run as a co-op Harkness seems like a place filled with bizarre organized activities, hearty meals, and general warmth. I did hope to live there in all its co-op glory, but since I never got the chance I hope to instead join some of my friends in dining there in the coming semester. Sophomore fall was full of COVID fear and strict regulations, and the following semester I was back at home having a false summer during the spring season.
Oberlin divided the classes to dissuade large groups of students all attending classes or gatherings at once. The idea was that sophomores would take the spring off and return to campus in the summertime with the juniors. Though I was at first extremely dubious of this idea, considering Oberlin is located both in Ohio and directly next to if not on a swamp, the summer remains a stellar golden beautiful semester in my mind. Maybe part of that preservation of memory has to do with housing.
During the summer, I got to live in Kahn, the freshman dorm mentioned earlier. Because there were no freshmen on campus for the semester, they opened the dorm to anyone. Some of my close friends were also placed in Kahn, which certainly improved the experience, but I think what really made the difference was the fact that Kahn is one of the only (if not the only) dorms with personal air conditioning in every room. Because of the pandemic Oberlin did not allow roommates and I was placed in a double-sized room alone. Though the space was large and the window let in beautiful light, a double room also meant double the furniture. After spending a couple weeks lofting two beds and shoving an extreme amount of furniture underneath, my room in Kahn became one of my favorite living spaces. I had room for an armchair and a little coffee table, I joined my hybrid zoom classes from my desk, and after long humid days my friends would flop down on my rug or my bed to lie in the air conditioning. Kahn is also located directly next to Stevie, a major dining hall on campus, so making the short walk for breakfast or a smoothie felt more attainable than it had ever been before from any other building I had lived in. The summer was filled with great memories, and I think my quality of life at Kahn contributed to that. Many nights were filled with summer storms that I watched out my window, there was lots of running between friends' rooms to loan clothes or tape or knickknacks, and in the end, when it was time to move out and lug boxes outside, the Kahn elevator never felt more welcoming.
We took a small month off between the summer semester and the fall, and by the end of September I was back in Oberlin, rolling suitcases up the driveway of my new home. The wrap-around porch, the windows, the stained glass, hardwood floors, and eclectic furniture collected and rearranged over the years welcomed me into Tank, where I lived for the next semester. Our room was at the end of the hall on the second floor and looked out over the front yard of the house. We had a bay window at the front of the room and another at the side overlooking my desk. The built-in closets were soon filled with our clothes, our shared trinkets were immediately arranged on the windowsill, and we got to work hanging art and placing stickers artfully around the room. Then, as the semester began we settled into our routine. To provide a little context for Tank before elaborating on my living experience there: Tank is a co-op! At Oberlin, co-operative housing and dining is separate from Oberlin College and completely student-run. Co-operative housing can generally be defined as a shared living space. Everyone who lives there invests some money at the beginning of the year. The cost of housing in a co-op is lower than Oberlin student housing, and the money is reinvested in the living space. Then, during the year the co-op elects students to lead different elements of co-operative living. For instance, there are people who put together chore charts and others who organize co-op events. Many people have jobs that contribute to a clean living space where everyone can feel heard. Finally, everyone does their part by taking on a weekly chore and generally keeping the co-op clean. Before living in Tank I had never lived in a shared space so conducive to open communication. In my experience, Tank felt like a huge house. There was a living room downstairs, and people were always running in and out on their way to class. Many people did their homework at the big table, and sweet cinnamon smells swelled through the first floor when someone baked something in the kitchen. I enjoyed having my own space in Tank to go back to when I needed privacy or just time to read or work alone, but I also loved living and dining at Tank. After a long day of classes I would go back to my room, catch up with Greer if we happened to make it home at the same time, and take some time to catch up on work, make some art, take a nap and recharge before dinner time. Dinner was always at 6:20, and by six the general hubbub of everyone arriving would begin to waft up from downstairs. Both living and dining in Tank always felt like hosting a massive dinner party without expending the energy of hosting. As everyone sat down on the ground, at tables, on couches to eat dinner there were always new people to sit with and meet, or old friends to catch up with over a homemade meal. Our room was also a space Greer and I filled with great memories. Our schedules never seemed to line up exactly, but at the end of the long day we would flop down in our armchairs that we had placed in front of the bay window to recount every silly encounter or bizarre experience from the last week to each other. Though I’ll miss living in Tank and the new friends, lovely porch hangouts and meals it brought, I’ll be dining and cooking there next year as well.
As my senior year begins, I will be living with Greer Hobbs in an apartment! Though I can’t imagine exactly what the experience will be, we’re in agreement that the living room will be our art studio. We got the apartment through Oberlin housing, meaning the college owns a certain amount of spaces that they rent out to students at the same annual price as general student housing. Village housing is also an option for upperclassmen, though it requires entry into a lottery in order to be granted permission to lease a space in Oberlin, Ohio, in a way that is not contingent with Oberlin housing. As a new phase of Oberlin living commences, I look forward to what the year will being and hope that this mini guide offered some insight into what Oberlin living can look like for students.
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