Roommates Wanted

September/October 2009

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Roommates Wanted

Joan Larkins Robertson

My first quarter at Stanford had been great until the day my head exploded.

It wasn't studying for Modern European History that did it, that day during Dead Week in December 1974, but a collision with a 6-foot-tall dormmate as the girls pillaged the boys' rooms in retaliation for a panty raid the night before. The impact broke my jaw and left me with my mouth wired shut for six weeks.

That accident ended a series of pranks in our Wilbur Hall dorm that had peaked creatively weeks earlier when the guys carpeted the girls' hallway in the middle of the night with paper cups filled with water. When we opened our doors the next morning, we couldn't step anywhere without spilling. (The guys eventually had to pay to replace the mildewed carpet.)

We still talk about those pranks 35 years later, as we save seats for one another at Reunion Homecoming. Our bond is so strong that our mini-reunions draw about a third of our 80-odd dormmates. Friends from other dorms envy our tight clan, like an only child pressing his face against the window of the house down the block where a big family sings around the piano. How does it happen that one group of students bonds while others go their own ways?

It helped that we were left alone. We rarely saw our resident faculty members. Advisers were scarce. Parents dropping by was unheard of. There was little orientation back then, not much of a coffeehouse. The only Facebook was the Froshbook.

Like baby geese with no one to imprint on, we identified with one another. We sat together in class. We sat for hours on the corridor floor and just talked. We swapped clothes. I never went down for dinner without my roommate. More than once she was so late we missed the meal entirely.

That incubation gave me the confidence to go out into the world post-college. There stuck with me the feeling that, when I opened the door at the end of the day, there would be a group of people to whom I belonged. Someone would always be around—to listen, to laugh, to supplant my cares and complaints with stories of their own.

Now, as I check out college campuses with my high school son, I learn that dorms increasingly have private rooms, private bathrooms and no roommates. I read that a dorm at one school has a meditation room. Imagine, being alone freshman year!

WENDY JALONEN FAWTHROP, '78, is a senior copy editor at the Orange County Register.

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