North Hall first-years adjust to dorm experience


Maggie Allen

An evening walk back to North Hall signifies why first-year Patrick Wiley likes living in Whitman’s most isolated residence hall.

“The walk back from dinner at night is actually really chill because the crickets are out, so I really enjoy it,” he said. “We are far out, but at the same time it’s cool because it’s really mellow at times, but when everyone wants it to be more uppity, it can be that too.”

North Hall opened its doors to first-years in the 2008-09 academic year. So far, response is highly positive for Whitman’s newest first-year housing option.

“Even though it wasn’t any of my choices, I was both excited and sad that I had a single because I heard that North singles were humongous, but I really wanted a roommate,” said sophomore Khoa Ngyuen, who lived in North Hall last year. “But in the same sense, I would say that 85 percent of the time our doors were open, so it was like one big room, and people would sleep in each other’s rooms all the time.”

“It’s really nice to have your own personal space, but we all leave our doors open so it’s pretty chill,” said first-year Alex Norman. “You still get the group experience.”

The administration decided to place incoming first-years in North Hall last year because more space was needed for first-year students. Nancy Tavelli, associate dean of students for campus life, and others looked at everything they had and what made sense.

“We have an odd group of buildings so we had to make something work, so hopefully Whitman will join their colleagues into building new residence halls,” Tavelli said, “It’s kind of a tough call, but we make it work.”

Tavelli knows that singles may seem daunting at first, but feels that it ends up being an advantage.

“It doesn’t always fit into expectations as to what college is going to be,” she said, “The feedback is that people are a little taken aback, but once they are there, they seem okay with it.”

Jonathan Buchner, former resident director of North Hall, agrees that having singles can be a trade-off.

“There is an advantage to having your own space, but it’s a different first-year experience with not having a roommate,” he said. “North has the most square footage per resident than any other residence hall, and what happens when you spread people out is you get more space to yourself and you feel farther away from each other in the building, so that’s kind of a different dynamic as well.”

The negative perception of North being far away is also appreciated by the people who live or have lived there. It’s actually closer to Ankeny than Anderson.

“Being separated, it makes the campus feel bigger,” Norman said.

Resident Advisor Sarah Evans describes North as a tight-knit community in a “sweet building with lots of personal room and lots of North programming.”

“The wheat fields are only two blocks away, which is sweet for bike rides,” she said. “There is no noise from the main campus. North students hang out with residents in other dorms, participate in campus activities, go to class, play IM sports and eat in the dining halls . . . The small block walk is only a problem if you think it is.”

The mix between classes also adds to the flavor of North.

“Living amongst upperclassman is a really unique experience because you really get to know what’s going on,” first-year Shane Young said.

“I think it was actually really exciting and it worked out really well, having both the transfers and the first-years because it created a bigger dynamic and it worked out well for the first-years too,” Buchner said.

The Residence Life staff also contributed considerably to making the first-years feel more at home.

“The res life staff did a good job at making us feel comfortable at being freshmen in North,” Nguyen said.

“There was a lot of investment into that first-year group because there was only one section,” Buchner said. “Two RAs worked into that section and one RD also paid attention to that section, so it was a lot of resources for that one section.”

With the mixed hall, large rooms and close-knit community, the decision to place first-years into North seems to have been a smart decision.

Nguyen reflects on his year spent there and is glad that he was able to meet the people that he would have otherwise not have known if he had not lived in North.

“It was all about the people,” he said. “It was more unique than different, so that really helped make the bond stronger. The fact that we all lived on the same floor and we all shared the same experience of North and being in a place where none of us really chose, it really helped to break open the initial awkwardness, so in that way we spent a lot of time together, and we just really grew.”