In the fall of 1978, I went to college with a popcorn popper, a typewriter, and a Schwinn Bike.
My friends and I wore the popcorn popper out before spring quarter ended. Man… did we eat a lot of popcorn. The typewriter, a fancy Underwood Electric, was borrowed by everyone on the third floor. My bike was stolen, recovered, and stolen again within a week of it being found. The typewriter, a high school graduation gift from my grandparents, hasn’t had a ribbon since about 1982, but I keep it to remind me of those days before computers. It’s a dinosaur, like its owner.
My freshman year roommate and I were matched without ever having met. We managed to squeeze into a dorm room that was smaller than either of the bedrooms my children now inhabit. We lived in that room together, mostly in harmony, for nine months. Thirty-plus years later, I still consider her one of my closest, dearest friends. We were complete opposites in many ways, which is maybe why our union worked. We learned to share, overlook stuff, compromise, and adjust, which is why we are still good friends today.
My two kids will be moving in with roommates next fall. Today, we received the housing application and information for my daughter. Reading though the packet, I was amazed at the number of options available…for rooms, for meal plans. She will be able to choose a roommate by going online to a database for students. Kind of like online dating. The rooms come equipped with fridges, microwaves, high speed internet, and cable. A local company can be hired to “loft” beds in the room if she and her future roomie decide that this is what they want. There are at least three restaurants on campus and if she decides that she only wants to eat in the cafeteria once a week, the school will provide her with a debit card to use for other meals.
What struck me was the first line from the first page of the packet that read, “because we are aware that most students will not have lived in the same room with another person before coming to college, here is some information that we hope will be helpful to you.” They are correct about many of the kids. They haven’t shared a room, or much of anything else. This is a problem for colleges in 2011 as they attempt to house a generation of students who have had more space, more money, and more stuff of their own than any generation before them.
I shared a bedroom from the time my sister was born until she got married and moved out of our college apartment. We had one bathroom for five family members. One. Bathroom. My dad bought a used car that she and I shared. In fact, I can’t think of too many objects that were solely MINE during my childhood and adolescence.
My husband was the second in a family of six children. It was pretty close quarters for him, too. He and two of his brothers shared a bedroom until his oldest sister married and moved out.
This way of life was the norm. And I think that for us, going to college and living with others, while an adjustment, wasn’t that big a deal. For the Millenials, who have lived more like renters in their own little apartments, it’s a step down no matter where they go to college. They are the generation those of us raised with high self-esteem and lots of trophies just for being on the team. They have been given too much materially because we’ve been able to give it to them in a way that our own parents could not. They are used to being “special” and “unique” and “well-loved” because we’ve told them since the day they were old enough to understand, that that’s what they are.
And they ARE, these well-loved children of ours. But they struggle, too. Technology makes it possible for them to remain at home, but connected to their friends through texts and social networking 24 hours a day. Then,when they get bored (and they do, much faster and much more often than we did) they simply log off. They need constant stimulation and expect their teachers to both entertain them AND give them A’s for average work because often, it’s easier to do that than listen to the indignation when they attempt to push them for more. They can’t write as well as they could, don’t read as much as they should, and require calculators to do even the most elementary math problems because, well, it’s faster and easier just to type in the numbers than to actually go back to learning those multiplication tables that were drilled into us.
They are great at social networking and lousy at communicating face to face which is a vital skill to have when expected to live communally. They don’t want to have to share their stuff because the concept of having to share is foreign to them. They will go to college with laptop computers, flat screen TVs, and enough clothing, shoes, and personal doodads to open a shop on campus. Each of them.
I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m really glad I’m not a housing director tonight.