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Whiteboards with friends

I landed a single in Potter House in Governor’s Corner thanks to a last-minute decision not to study abroad. Despite its location on the other side of the universe, the three flights of stairs between the front door and my room and the curious case of the first stall never having toilet paper, Potter is that solid mass I come home to at the end of the day. The one that envelops me in a consistently standoffish embrace. And I can’t think of a better fit for me.

There is something streamlined about the Stanford freshman experience in that housing variation is limited. A majority of incoming students end up with a roommate, or two, or three, all in a tangle of 70 other new students, the alchemy of which leaves little room for flexibility of lifestyle. Perhaps I couldn’t have known what living situation would make me feel most comfortable without exposure to the lot, and for that I will always think fondly on my messy freshman year. Yet, I will never recall feeling truly at ease, defenseless and relaxed in the way that for me was a staple of life before coming to Stanford. All this changed when mediocre French skills and a strange Stanford longing found me a Potter resident.

The reputation of west campus housing is that it isn’t a community, a fact always uttered with the sad, knowing tone of one who believes they have it better. But just as the world is made up of tall and short, runners and walkers, people who get plane-sick and people who don’t, so too is the range expansive when it comes to which sorts of housing promote core contentment. And for those routine-oriented, solitude-craving among us, Potter has all the trappings of a perfect respite. And its forays into community encompass those meditative aspects.

Around halfway through fall quarter, in response to Robert Spencer’s upcoming visit, a Potter-style attempt at the communication aspect of community began on the whiteboards peppered throughout the building. What made these inroads of communiqué so Potter-esque was their softness and hilarity. No one was aggressive or ridiculous; people were taking the space seriously as a means to express opinions, engage in conversation and make attempts at conversion. Since then, each day brings a new surprise. Questions about a trip to Disneyland, invitations to Friday night beer pong (highly unlikely this was a real event), proclamations that RAIN = PAIN, polls about whether or not Zach should get an iPhone X, and an avocado with the word FREE.

My least favorite whiteboard moment was a call for Snapchat handles, the desire to form false relationships brokered by social media seeming in contrast to the function of the whiteboard — i.e. to unobtrusively engage. One of my favorites was when someone asked, “What do you miss most about home?” And although this resounds frighteningly like a forced freshman-year conversation, in this context it was meaningful, and people took it as such, answers ranging from “my dog” to “the park next door to my house.”

The truth is, we aren’t friends. When someone writes on the whiteboard, you have no way of knowing who they are. But in the same way that Potter allows you to come and go, so too do these scrawled comments provide you a low-pressure way of feeling the presence of those around you. And despite my love of the solitary arts, there is an element of joy in anticipating the wit of a stranger, the thoughtfulness of an anonymous story. To me, these whiteboards represent an expression of solidarity among individuals who choose to live outside of the pulsating mass of noise, accessibility and pressure that is college life.

Despite the stereotype that people who live in Governor’s Corner (FroSoCo, Potter, Robinson) are antisocial and short on friends, the truth is far more radical. Speaking for myself, I am a person in Potter who loves the anonymity of leaving class and coming back to my own space. This space is mercifully quiet, generally clean and always welcoming at the end of a day filled with stimulating conversation, fast-paced lectures and those clockwork bike-rushes. On the way to my room I pass a whiteboard, walking to fill up my kettle for tea I pass a second, and while these attempts at closeness perhaps broker no real connection, they are the natural expression of another kind of rapport.

 

Contact Hannah Broderick at inbloom ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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