The personal adjustments required at the outset of university life are many; a burgeoning academic schedule couples with the chaos of having thousands of fellow students to meet and endless weekend (and weeknight) parties to attend. However, circumscribed around these new daily obstacles is the setting within which we function: our freshman dorms.
I believe I speak for all when I say that the comfort and security of one’s room has, until this year, been taken for granted. Separate from the challenges and trials of everyday life sits a space reserved for us alone, a setting that rests, calms and assuages the myriad troubles of the teenage mind. Yet a scene so tied to our upbringings is rudely snatched from our grasp upon arrival on campus, and we are left to rebuild our personal sanctuaries from scratch. Shamefully, I worried about this immensely throughout my final summer weeks and even more so after learning that I would be spending the next calendar year living in Ujamaa Residential College.
As one of North Campus’s Program Houses, Ujamaa celebrates the rich and diverse history of peoples of African descent throughout the globe. The artwork, literature and cultures of these heritages spanning from the Caribbean to the African Coasts are put on display and honored. Ujamaa stands a symbol of collective strength and empowerment within the larger Cornell community, yet its purpose is neither to isolate nor compartmentalize one group of students. The word Ujamaa itself means to build and to maintain a cohesive community, a charge fulfilled with the annual inclusion of students whose heritage is not tied to the peoples of Africa or the Caribbean.
It’s so frighteningly embarrassing to admit that I ever worried about my current surroundings. As a student of English descent, I’ve always been among the “majority.” Although friends in high school originated from many corners of the globe, never once was I actually living within conditions where I wasn’t just like everybody else. My naiveté trumped any sense of rational thought, and I worried that the larger community of my future dorm would struggle to accept someone of such vastly different origins. This judgment was of a nature so provincial and small-minded, grounded in the nasty bias of inexperience and crushingly shameful in retrospect. Put simply, I was so very wrong.
In the process of transforming my dorm back into the form of sanctuary that it took at home, I have found what will most certainly be a life-long friendship in my roommate. Greeted on day one with the warmest of smiles and nothing but kindness since, I was granted a gift of a roommate. Nights in Suite 1 are spent surrounded with both the rapturous laughter and screams concerning FIFA matches of epochal significance, and the serenity of friendly conversation. These sentiments have been echoed by each and every member of the Ujamaa community whom I’ve been privileged enough to meet. The worries surrounding any notion of exclusion or separation have been proven resoundingly silly. My expectation of being “that” kid was proved false with my first steps into the building on move-in day.
What began as strains of fear and worry have evolved into resounding pride in my new home. You can be sure that any mention of my dorm placement evokes strong reactions in those who pose the seemingly simple question of, “So, where are you living?” Ranging from intrigue to incredulity, students around campus reflect a myriad of opinions concerning my housing arrangement. Some relay the sentiments I carried prior to my arrival, some display an admirable maturity which I sorely lacked, yet others still reveal a wicked and perverse stance which has no place on the grounds of such a renowned, progressive institution. Combatting these views has been challenging to say the least, yet they have never swayed me to stop asserting with pride the name of my dorm. It has been an absolute pleasure to call Ujamaa home.
My room now carries the same shield of comfort and banner of serenity which defined my room back home. Surrounding my small room of requirement sits a larger community of peers who have been nothing but incredible in mitigating any fears I held. What amazes me most is just how they did it — by doing nothing at all. Never was I anything but another dorm mate. Never was I the white kid vastly in the minority. Never was I anything but a student, a freshman and a new face to learn about. I, and I alone, had formed my concerns about potential awkwardness or separation from group; these concerns were never reflected by fellow Ujamites. For this I owe the greatest thanks to my roommate, R.A., building manager and the entire Ujamaa community. You guys are the best.
Josh Taylor is a freshman in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at email@example.com. Northern Exposure, a column from the perspectives of alternating members of the Class of 2015, appears alternate Fridays this semester.