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Living in a virtual dorm

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The second that I thought about the phrase “virtual dorm,” my mind was immediately taken to the fantasy land of Club Penguin. Imagine RAs setting up their own upgraded personal igloos to accommodate the masses of residents logging in and joining the Arctic server. An RA could host a virtual on-call where they would have a puffle petting zoo while other penguin students go out to the Nightclub to party with other anonymous penguins from across the globe.

No matter our efforts at hosting Club Penguin social gatherings, nothing can replace in-person dorm dynamics, especially those of freshman dorms. I lived in Burbank this year, a freshman dorm that is known for housing students in ITALIC, a program where 45 freshmen study art theory and art appreciation together twice a week, exposing themselves to unconventional forms of creativity. I was a member of that program, and I loved getting to know these various artists from all over the world.

Simply living with them and becoming familiar with their mediums inspired me to branch out of my own comfort zone and attempt different artistic approaches to life itself. While it was so intriguing to meet these individuals, it was equally as interesting to get to know the rest of the dorm. Befriending people who were interested in STEM broadened my perspectives to the variety of what campus had to offer and motivated me to try classes that went beyond the humanities.

When we were all asked to evacuate the campus, I left under the impression that we might be returning in about five weeks. I was wrong. My goodbyes to my friends were half-hearted and shallow. I didn’t know that they would be the last in-person words I would say to them for a while. 

I never got the chance to fully absorb and appreciate the dynamic that my dorm had to offer, and I don’t think I realized that in the moment. Because I was in rehearsals six days a week, I never attended house meetings, I always had to miss dorm field trips and my lunch and dinner never aligned with anyone else’s. I didn’t even know most of the names of the people in my dorm until after Thanksgiving, when Gaieties was over.

Not being in physical proximity to people makes emotional connection a challenge. Zoom house meetings and gatherings in general aren’t the same. It’s harder to bounce jokes off of each other when you can’t intuitively feel when a person is about to talk. It’s difficult to meet new people whom you may not know in-depth when you are all randomly scattered images on a screen. It’s inevitable that motivation for participation is lowered because you don’t know who is going to be there and who is going to skip out.

Part of me is sad that our house meetings have gone down to 20 or so people out of the 90 in my dorm. That said, I’m also happy that people are getting used to their new lives back at home and are relishing in the familiarity of their surroundings.

I know that our RAs are planning more fun activities to do on Zoom together, and I look forward to seeing how we can make the most of our digital situation. One idea from our amazing birthday fairies was to do birthday showers over Zoom where the celebrated person can shower themselves if they choose (fully clothed, don’t worry). Part of the fun will come with the failure of attempted activities. 

I hope that one day our entire dorm can come together again because I regret not investing more of my time into them before. The sad truth is that we will never be able to experience the unparalleled tightness of a freshman dorm community again, so we have to hang on to and appreciate what we can still preserve now. 

Contact Chloe Chow at chloe23 ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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