How some UNC students are making their dorms a home away from home

By Samaria Parker

As a birdie bounces indoors between badminton rackets, a group of college women laugh loudly on the sofa and ignore the “quiet hours” sign above them. Across the hall, two residents try to drown out the noise as they work on a paper due the next day. The sound of poker chips clinking against the table from a game underway down the hall adds to their distraction.

It’s a typical day on the second floor of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carmichael Residence Hall.

Each year, students are greeted by Carmichael’s fluorescent lights, cinder block walls and narrow hallways. Leaving behind their childhood bedrooms and family living rooms, they gain the four walls of a new room and a brightly decorated lounge area.

As they say goodbye to parents and siblings, they also say hello to 485 building mates, 40 hall mates and one roommate.

While this transition is overwhelming for some, student Jadyn Jones knows all about living with a lot of people. From a family of nine, her house always bustled with noise. Even the aggressively pink walls in her bedroom were loud; the three little sisters she shared them with were even louder. For Jones, the sounds of Carmichael pale in comparison to the giggles, cries and screams of her sisters – Justice, Jenae and Jessa – she’d grown accustomed to.

And in a nine-member home, it didn’t get much quieter outside of her bedroom. The idea of being alone is one she has never really gotten to know.

So, when she traded in the pink room she’d known for so long, for the dull-white cinder block walls of a dorm bedroom, gaining so many neighbors was an easier transition for her than most.

“Not that my house had a constant hum, but we’re all kids and we’re all family so there are constantly screaming matches or somebody doing something in the living room,” she said. “Someone’s exercising to The Biggest Loser or watching a really loud movie and you always say hello to the people you walk into the room with.”

Jones maintains that habit in her dorm. As she walks down the hall, she makes sure to greet everyone in the lounge with a big, “Hello;” stopping for a moment to inquire about each person’s day. For her, it mostly feels like just another day in the living room with her family.

‘Living on top of each other’

The transition to living in a dorm is not as seamless for everyone. Student Veronica Munn takes a more subtle approach to the dorm lounge space, often shuffling in and snuggling up in a corner chair before greeting others.

Her quiet approach matches what she’s known most of her life. The squishing sound as she plops down into her favorite oversized bean bag is about as loud it gets in her home. Between the two houses she has — one with her mom and one with her dad – home life for Munn tended to be pretty quiet.

Apart from the padding of her greyhound Faith’s feet on her dad’s hardwood floors and the occasional chatter with her mom and brother, life at home is pretty quiet. Nothing in comparison to the bustle of Carmichael dorm.

“At home, unless I go seeking out interaction,” she said. “I can usually avoid it. In the dorm there’s a whole lot more interaction.”

Across the hall, student Ray Starn is also not used to having so many people in his living space.

“There’s nothing similar about living in a dorm, at all,” he said. “Living in a dorm, you’re obviously living on top of each other.”

Home away from home

After his sister, Frances, left for college, Starn spent the last five years living with just his mom. With only two people, it was spacious – no “living on top of each other” – and unless there was company, the noise was kept to a minimum.

Now, living amongst so many suitemates and hall mates, reality couldn’t be more different. Rather than cozying up in his living room or hiding away in his bedroom, he joins his suitemates for weekly Saturday morning brunches, Friday night poker games and rounds of his favorite board game, Catan.

While it’s a lot crazier than his lifestyle at home, he sees the beauty in the chaos.

A few suites down, Aisha Siddiqui can relate.

Growing up in a home that teetered between crowded and quiet. Living in a dorm so different, yet somewhat the same. Her living room and kitchen were filled with the buzz of parents and her cousins, Amna and Mohammed, who visited frequently. But as an only child, Siddiqui spent a lot of time hidden away in her room doing homework while the murmurs of her parents and cousins fluttered softly in the background.

For her, not much has changed.

Between the preference for being cozied away in her room and balancing a busy schedule, she isn’t someone you’d necessarily find in the lounge. Sitting underneath the desk twinkle lights she brought from home, she smiles to herself.  The murmurs of her hall mates in the background as she does her homework catch her attention; for a moment, she’s reminded of home.

No matter the house one comes from, for many students, the cinder block walls, fluorescent lights and electric-blue lounge couches become as familiar as the 40 hall mates who start to feel more like family.

And for Jones, Starn, Munn and Siddiqui, the second floor of Carmichael Residence Hall is now a home away from home.

Edited by Hannah McClellan