To dorm or not to dorm

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Are all UConn dorms created equally? Werth Tower, where the majority of STEM and honors students live, is significantly nicer than other dorms on campus.  Photo by Eric Wang / The Daily Campus

Are all UConn dorms created equally? Werth Tower, where the majority of STEM and honors students live, is significantly nicer than other dorms on campus. Photo by Eric Wang / The Daily Campus

As the leaves turn and the Pumpkin Spice Latte returns, everyone is noticing how summer is now on its last legs, making room for the fall season. It’s evident in the sweaters we wear, the sandals we swap for boots and the iced coffee we trade for a hot drink; but the most obvious change is the weather. 

I no longer have to keep two fans on when I sleep, or stay in my room for only brief periods of time because the heat is unbearable. I find my refuge outdoors, rather than the rooms my friends live in at Werth. 

As I painfully reflect on the times I suffered in the heat, I begin to wonder: how is UConn’s quality of life for students? 

The vast majority of on-campus housing options are quite old, and over half of them need major repairs, according to an assessment of dorms in 2015. Some have fallen into disrepair: leaking bathrooms, nonexistent water pressure, cracked, stained or broken ceiling tiles, easily-breaking elevators, chipping furniture, bug infestations, spilling washing machines, etc. Other dorms aren’t even in the 20th century (let alone the 21st), lacking elevators despite having several floors, having only a few washers and dryers for hundreds of students, providing only two showers and four sinks for entire floors, etc. Then there’s the obvious lack of air conditioning everywhere, combined with the cramped dorms with beds only an arm’s-length apart, and extremely thin hallways. In some dorms, it can be hard to even open your door or work at your desk without being in the way of someone; and if you have anxiety or claustrophobia, forget ever feeling comfortable in the room you’re paying thousands of dollars for each semester.  

There are other issues, of course, that arise from living so closely to others in spaces meant to save money, not to accommodate students’ needs. Colds and the flu spread much faster. An outbreak of lice can happen. Shower drains collect wads of hair. Toothpaste stains the sinks, and blood or leftover urine the toilets. Resident Assistants can only do so much to help this, and the cleaning staff is already overworked and severely understaffed—so students turn to the university for answers. 


This chart depicts the economic breakdown of the new renovation plans for UConn.  Graphic provided by Liz Collins / The Daily Campus

This chart depicts the economic breakdown of the new renovation plans for UConn. Graphic provided by Liz Collins / The Daily Campus

UConn already has a master plan of construction through 2035, which has prioritized certain projects over others. At the top of the list are renovations part of the Next Generation Connecticut initiative started by former President Herbst and former Governor Malloy: the Gant Complex, Monteith, Putnam, greenhouses, “STEM Research Centers,” a STEM residence hall, an honors residence hall, and others. At the bottom of the list lie the currently unfunded projects including heritage campus buildings, von der Mehden, Jorgensen, East residence halls, Arjona, Mansfield Apartments and Northwood Apartments. 

It’s hard to ignore the pattern this construction has: Prioritize STEM and honors students, and build new facilities before renovating older ones.  

Even as a STEM student, I feel conflicted about how UConn determines which students are worth helping and which will be helped in the distant future. I would much rather the dingy buildings like Arjona and gloomy dorms like Grange or Hicks be taken care of before a completely new project is pursued. While I understand UConn’s need to seem new-age with the latest technology and to appeal to STEM students, it makes no sense to lure prospective students in with promises of the best facilities and have them realize how bad the “bad” residence halls or classroom buildings are. I would much rather see all students happy, rather than students being jealous because students who were deemed more worthy than them get to live and learn in a comfortable, proper environment. It’s hard to learn and even function when your living conditions are subpar. 

There are some ways to cheat the system and get decent housing, of course. You can apply into a Learning Community based out of Werth, you can take advantage of the lenient disability requirements and get air conditioning or snag a single in your preferred area of campus, or, if you came to UConn with lots of credits from high school, you can get a suite in a dorm like Snow. If these work-arounds don’t work for you, you can always hope to have a friend who can pull you into a suite during housing selection. But more often than not, this doesn’t seem to work, especially for those of us cursed with less-than-preferred pick times.  

The solution? For students, it’s to suck it up and survive; make friends and gain a sense of camaraderie with your floor through your shared suffering and hope you can do better next year. For the university, I would strongly urge administrators and those in charge of construction to focus on renovating or replacing older buildings before creating completely new ones that are supplemental, rather than necessary, to on-campus life.  

Thumbnail photo by Charlotte Lao / The Daily Campus


Liz Collins is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at elizabeth.collins@uconn.edu.

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