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Dorm Living 2001
Wired--for sound and just about everything else--in the undergrad home away from home

By Mary Mashburn
Illustration by Janet Woolley

They arrive each year, weighed down with notions of what it takes to survive life in a college dorm. "Freshmen--they just take their entire room from home and bring it here," says residential adviser Christina Coleman '03, shaking her head.

But after the purge--after parents have returned home with the extra clothes, the TV just like the roommate's, the banned air-conditioner--what's essential to creating a home away from home?

We asked the experts, residential advisers who are veterans of several Hopkins dorms, to describe a typical early 21st century dorm room on the Homewood campus. At its most basic, the freshman dorm room is a single cell with Noah's Ark furnishings: two beds, two desks, two chairs, two chests, two closets. Other undergraduate dorms (Hopkins has 1,152 units total) have more amenities: singles, suites with living rooms, apartments with kitchenettes--even air conditioning. But no matter the floor plan, the RAs agreed, it's all about being wired.

Just how plugged in are students? The basics, say the RAs, are a personal computer (usually a PC with a large-screen monitor, although laptops are beginning to gain popularity), a stereo, a TV/VCR combination, a video gaming system such as Play Station II or DreamCast, a cordless phone (for strolling the hallway or hanging out in the lounge for a change of scene), a personal digital assistant like the Palm (combination calendar, address book, and memo pad), and the essential mobile accessory: a cell phone. "One of my residents had three cell phones," recalls Michael Sauer '02, "with three different calling plans." Even the simple acoustic guitar, a recent craze among students, has a digital edge--students can download guitar tablature for popular songs from the Web.

The computer figures prominently in the wired dorm room: The most tech-savvy students can streamline their electronica by feeding most of it through a computer and large-screen monitor. Students use DVD players (standard on most PCs these days) to watch movies and install TV tuner cards to turn the computer into a television set; true sound geeks create the ultimate stereo by hooking up subwoofer, amplifier, and multiple speakers to their computers to play CDs and the thousands of MP3 files (digitized songs) they download from the Web.

But most of all, the computer is the beating heart of communication. Students go online to do research, check homework assignments and reading lists, and talk to their friends. Instant Messenger, popularized by AOL, is just that--"buddies" online type messages to chat with each other in real time.

Perhaps the most important piece of equipment is the power strip. How else to plug all those key components into only a few outlets?
--Mary Mashburn

KEYWORDS / Unlocking dorm lingo

Lofting: Students these days don't bunk beds; they loft them. With beds raised, storage-strapped students can throw just about anything underneath--dressers, desks, closets, and even couches.

Microfridge: Dorm rooms aren't getting any bigger, but must-have appliances are getting smaller. For $178 a year, students rent microfridges, compact microwave-refrigerator units that boil ramen while chilling Gatorade.

Husband: Late at night, when 300 pages still need to be read, students climb into bed and let the arms of their husbands cradle them. Long after their roommates have nodded off, these pillows provide unconditional support.

IM: Shorthand for Instant Messenger, real-time contact with friends online. Standard usage: "We IM each other what time to go to dinner." It's faster than a phone call, less effort than walking to knock on a neighbor's door.

Social: Definition of an undergraduate who plans to do more than study in the dorm. Prerequisite: an open-door policy in the Alumni Memorial Residences, where being social is the freshman dorm norm. Useful tool: a personal digital assistant like the Palm--the little black book of modern life.
--Emily Carlson

Thanks to our experts: Rifat Chowdhury '02, computer science major from India; Christina Coleman '03, biology/premed major from Southern California; Shima Majidi '01, recent prelaw graduate from Littleton, Colorado; Emily Petersen '02, premed major from Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Michael Sauer '02, electrical engineering major from Hollywood, California.

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