I hate dorm rooms.
Now, that’s a statement I hear every single day from students of all ages, but there’s more to it than living with someone you don’t know.
Picture a room that has dull and unimaginative brown or white paint covering each of its four walls.
It’s a room that’s eight feet by 11-and-a-half feet and hardly enough space to stretch out your limbs by the time you get furniture in it.
The room has a single, harshly colored light source and one window. A window that most likely faces the flat, tall and also brown outside of another building, shielding off most natural light from ever reaching you.
I, along with many others, find this to be problem. Not only do these characterless rooms hinder the learning ability of many students, but they seem to have an harmful effect on mental health as well.
Because of minimal lighting due to a lack of artificial and natural light, it is harder to pay attention, for me. In contrast it is easier to sleep or lose focus.
And college dorm rooms have never been the quietest places. With thousands of other restless, party-going, music-enthusiastic young adults just feet away at times, and forced into the same situation as you, it is never a silent workplace. This environment makes it difficult to simply engage in doing your homework or study in the first place. It is common knowledge that students in college are one of the most affected demographics in terms of mental health.
I for one don’t think that this is a coincidence.
In an article by The Atlantic, the writer, Jacoba Urist, interviewed many professionals on the topic about the possible mental health side-effects of changes in New York apartments that would make them smaller than they already are (which are still much bigger than an average UNL dorm room).
In the article, Dak Kopec, director of design for human health at Boston Architectural College said that research has shown that crowding-related stress increases domestic violence and substance abuse; this is especially true in people our age.
Of course, in an environment such as a college campus (especially one located in a downtown area), these “substances” such as drugs and alcohol are never incredibly hard to run into, and most definitely affect school performance.
In the same article, Susan Saegert, professor of environmental psychology at the City University of New York Graduate Center and director of the Housing Environments Research Group, said, “I’ve studied children in crowded apartments and low-income housing a lot, and they can end up becoming withdrawn, and have trouble studying and concentrating.” She followed this up with an interesting statement saying, “In New York, property is just gold.” Although there are of course clear differences between the massively populated city of New York and a college campus, dorms are smaller than many of the living conditions Saegert has studied in New York, thus providing a parallel in the impact it puts on the inhabitants.
Another interesting similarity relates to Saegert’s statement about property being gold. College, after all, is a multi-billion-dollar industry. It is a business, and in any business, it is generally a smart idea to conserve your money. The size of dorm rooms is nothing if not a smart business plan. Furthermore, this taxing reality is forced on freshman, instead of being offered as an option, making this reality unavoidable and virtually inescapable .
Freshman at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, along with most other universities nationwide are forced to live on campus in these dorm rooms. This creates systemic issues for those with mental illnesses. It creates a culture that pays no attention to mental illnesses when regarding living quarters.
It also produces a habitat in which psychological help is tough to find. Most students at the university dislike the fact that their room is small, but because everyone feels this way, the person with an already existing mental illness probably won’t speak up about it. They would feel as if this is the norm and so they should just “get over it.” All these factors ultimately create a quintessential environment for mental health risks such as insomnia, anxiety, stress and depression.
An environment like this allows these risks to quietly move into your cramped room with you. At the end of the day, whether dorm rooms are small to save money, or to simply get us outside and mingling, they are indeed small.
These eight feet by 11-and-a-half-feet rooms can have many effects on us, ranging from poor educational results, to mental and physical health, but most importantly, they hinder our growth at a time in life that we are changing most.
Although it may cost a bit more to heat and cool due to added size, I believe happiness, comfort, sanity and education are more important than saving a few bucks, especially at a place such as a university.
Simply adding a few feet to each wall, and painting rooms in brighter colors could result in students eventually reaching greater academic heights, a more colorful and happy society and ultimately a successful life in the future.
The more space a student has would allow them to focus on the topic at hand, as well as allow them more feelings of freedom and openness; symptoms that are psychologically proven to help with mental illnesses.
Ultimately, with just a bit more space and some brighter walls in each room, I believe students would excel in their studies and have greater happiness while doing so.