Beginner’s guide to dorm life

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Illustration by Ella Higgins

Dorm life features prominently in the mythology of the college experience. Choosing where you live is also choosing how you live. Living on an urban campus means your day-to-day existence takes place in a city with an endless number of opportunities for enrichment as well as distraction. Here’s an overview of how to survive your first year living on campus.

University Housing and Residence Life currently has nine different housing options for students: Blackstone, Blumel Hall, Broadway, King Albert, Montgomery Court, Ondine, Parkway, St. Helens, and Stephen Epler Hall. Eligibility requirements, floor plans, and costs vary depending on building, number of roommates, and class standing.

Traditional first-year students—meaning age 19 or younger—must live in Ondine or Broadway, while Honors students have the additional option to live in Epler. The floors of these buildings for first-year students have additional student and professional staff to provide academic and social support for students.

PSU’s First Year Experience program is designed to ease your transition into an urban campus living environment. One way to achieve that is by requiring you to sign up for a meal plan, presumably to prevent you from going overboard on food carts and fancy coffee.

Additionally, University Success provides drop-in advising in Ondine 207 and on the first floor of King Albert, events to connect you with other students, and writing help with homework, resumés, and other projects. These are in addition to the tutoring and writing centers on the second floor of the library and advising services provided by your academic adviser.

If you survive your first year, your housing options expand and you can join transfer students and other upperclassmen in the rest of UHRL’s buildings. Graduate students are also welcome to live in any building on campus, and limited housing options also exist for students with families.

The stranger beside me

Navigating one’s evolving sense of self and values while under pressure in an unfamiliar environment is difficult enough without having to share an enclosed space with another person going through the same challenges and changes.

In case you’re new to town, you should know that you moved to Portland in the middle of a housing crisis—good job! The same market forces that are pushing rents up and people out of their homes also put pressure on PSU to provide enough units to serve students’ needs.

All of this means that getting placed in your ideal room with a roommate who mirrors your background and worldview isn’t a sure thing, and with UHRL adding additional people to units in Broadway as a temporary stopgap measure, you may eventually find yourself with two new roommates instead of one.

All housing assignments are designated first based on gender, then student living preferences. An all-gender housing option is also available, the goal of which is to provide a living situation that considers other living preferences without giving primacy to gender as the main aspect of roommate selection.

By opting in, students will answer additional questions that involve choosing from a spectrum of gender identities and specifying any roommate genders they are not comfortable living with.

In its Housing Handbook, UHRL suggests sitting down with your roommate during the first week and establishing clear expectations and ground rules.

Taking time to articulate your preferences when it comes to sleeping and study habits, cleaning schedules, food, guests, and attitudes toward drug and alcohol consumption will set an early standard for compromise and form a path of communication that can be utilized later when inevitable misunderstandings or conflicts arise.

Resident Assistants are also available to help with issues or mediate disputes and, in the event that they are unable to find a solution to your concerns, can call in professional staff to help out.

If you’ve done your best but your living situation in simply untenable, arranging a room transfer or swap is a possibility. These options aren’t available during spring or summer terms nor during the first and last two weeks of fall and winter terms.

It’s important to note that resorting to passive aggression or overt hostility in an attempt to oust your roommate will result in you paying the single rate for your room from the day your roommate vacates.

UHRL’s Housing Handbook also features an entire section on “Room Takeovers,” so if you were planning on staking out the recently vacated room of a friend or devising a scheme to have them add you as a roommate before leaving, be prepared to pay a $100 housing policy violation fee.

On campus or off campus?

For the most part, living on campus is cheaper and more convenient for most students than living off campus. The less-structured environment outside of campus offers more independence but also comes with added risk and less institutional support and guidance during the course of your daily life.

When considering the merits of living on campus, keep in mind that all on-campus housing is not created equal. Places like the Vue Apartments are technically on campus but are run by property management groups, not the university.

You may not have to worry about busybody RAs cracking down on your partying, but those same landlords and corporate administrators who are unconcerned with your underage drinking are likely just as indifferent to your academic success and personal and professional development.

While some properties may market themselves as “student housing” and have varying degrees of affiliation with PSU, students living in these facilities do not have access to many of the resources available only to students living on properties administered by UHRL.

If you decide to live off campus, brush up on your rights as a tenant so you don’t get screwed by a landlord or roommate. PSU Student Legal Services provides confidential and legal advice to students, which includes the Landlord-Tenant Law Handbook, advising drop-in hours, and the ability to schedule appointments for answers to all your questions answered about leases, evictions, deposits, “habitability issues” and more. 

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