by Thomas Hochman
A highly contested topic at OES is the perceived divide between dorm and day students.
While the majority of the upper school body is aware of the matter, there seem to be varying perspectives on what (if anything) should be done to increase dorm student integration.
This, perhaps, is the reason that no formal discussions have been organized among day students regarding it — at least in recent history. The subject can be touchy, and it’s hard to understand exactly what it’s like for dorm students from the outside looking in.
While everyone I spoke to had at least heard talk of the supposed social separation, what interested me were the differences between the faculty perspective and the view of the student body.
“In the last few years, students have started talking about this perceived dorm/day divide. But sometimes teachers will mix up dorm students with day students — I think that’s a good sign. Students in the dorms have also become more involved than ever in sports and theatre,” says Deri, “and it’s not just to check the boxes. It’s a process, but it’s improved from a decade ago.”
In other words, things are improving — extracurriculars are allowing everyone to reach across the aisle and make friends with dorm and day students alike.
But to the student body — in and out of the dorms — the separation appears to be widening.
Andrew C. is a day student, but has spent quite a bit of time in the dorms over the last two years. He explains that while the common areas in the dorms used to be a spot where day students would come after school to hang out and play pool, the feeling of openness has changed since school started up again in September.
“When I go to the dorms I still don’t feel like some of the dorm parents want me there,” he says. “I think that they’re afraid that day students walking in and out could feel intrusive, but it also makes reaching out even harder.”
Ian G., a junior dorm student, echoed this sentiment. “I think it’s true that the dorms have closed over the last year, and it has a lot to do with dorm parents and other faculty members involved with the dorms being uncomfortable having day students around,” he says. “They’re super conscious of creating a comfortable home, but I think that they sometimes forget that the dorms are a part of the school, too.”
And while that approach is understandable, it’s undeniable that it does lessen the ability of dorm and day students to get to know one another.
This poses the question of whether or not a small degree of separation, is, in some ways, a good thing.
“I don’t necessarily think that the so-called divide should be broken down,” says Graham O., a frequent visitor to the dorms. “It’s probably a really good thing that they have a close knit group of friends to rely on while living in a different country.”
He agrees that the dorms seem to have closed their doors to day students over the past year, explaining that there used to be more dorm-sponsored activities that day students could participate in. “But for all we know, there are kids in the dorms who really do feel like their space is being invaded. If that’s the case, then maybe the divide has to exist to ensure that dorm students have a home to retreat to.”
As Deri said, the situation is nuanced. And everyone has a slightly different opinion.
One thing that I heard brought up by all the students that I spoke with, however, was the view that the girls living in the dorms tend to reach out to day students less often than their male counterparts.
While this isn’t necessarily a criticism, Ian mentioned that he doesn’t think it’s even a matter of dorm versus day when it comes to the integration of the female dorm students into different social groups. “The girls in the dorms seem to become friends with each other more quickly than the boys do, and as a result, they often don’t even talk to the male dormies that live in the building across from them,” he explains.
Andrew speculates that it’s possible that the more linguistically diverse backgrounds of the male dorm students force the switch to English to happen more quickly.
And language will always play a key role. I can only imagine that it must be exhausting to speak and learn in a second language all day — and can see that lapsing into one’s mother tongue when school ends is probably pretty comforting.
Issues like these, as everyone recognizes, are unavoidable when it comes to the differences in the general lifestyles of dorm and day students. Things like the well-established schedule within a dorm day that include study hall, activities, and more offer time for social interaction that day students simply can’t engage in.
It’s also not particularly easy for dorm students to leave campus — everyone I talked to mentioned that it often feels impossible to hang out with someone from the dorms outside of school, because planning and transportation is so difficult.
So, many questions remain. But all of us as a student body could be doing a little bit better when given the opportunity to branch out.
And there are opportunities. The Backyard Exchange program allows day students to stay in the dorms for a week. The Retreat of Fun, or ROF, is a dorm-sponsored retreat especially made for all students who have spent nights in the dorms. There are still activity sign up sheets posted around the dorms that, most of the time, anyone can sign up for.
This is not to fault the day students. Frank C., a sophomore dorm student, told me that people often reach out to the dorms and the dorm students don’t reach back, explaining that it goes both ways.
So will the divide always be there? Yes, probably. But that doesn’t mean that getting to know people in the dorms is impossible — the chances are there.
It just requires initiative, and, more importantly, the interest.