What’s in a freshman floor?
When Washington University students arrive for their freshman year, almost all of them have at least one thing in common: they’re placed on a freshman floor in one of the campus dorms. It’s a time of transition and people from every imaginable background are thrown together to share a living space. For some, the freshman floor is just a place to crash at night. But for many students, it’s the place where they make some of the most defining friendships of their college careers-and the place to find future roommates.
Though not completely random, the process of arranging freshman floors involves a certain degree of chance. There’s no guarantee that students will get along, bond or have any desire to stick together after freshman year. Nonetheless, an amazing number of students end up living with freshman floormates into their sophomore years and even later. What is it about the freshman floor that’s so conducive to creating lasting bonds-or at least, lasting roommates?
“Living together in such close quarters makes it like a family,” said Sarah Podolsky, a junior currently living with friends from her freshman floor.
Podolsky lived on Lien 2 during her freshman year. A majority of the students from that floor continued to live together sophomore year and Podolsky estimated that nearly half of them still live with floormates this year.
Senior Marcus Behrens expressed a similar sentiment.
“I think our freshman floor was abnormally close,” he said. “[Freshman floormates] become your close friends. It’s just like living at home.”
At least half of Behrens’ freshman floormates have continued to live together even into their senior years. Senior Kelly Gelpi, who lived on Koenig 3 with Behrens during her freshman year, went on to live with four girls from that floor during her sophomore year. Behrens himself has had different roommates in different years, but all of them have been friends from his freshman floor; he now lives in an apartment building where two other friends from his freshman floor live across the hall.
It seems that what Behrens thought was abnormal might actually be quite typical. Junior Meredith Pierce, who lived on Liggett 2 in her freshman year, lived in a six-person suite with old freshman floormates in her sophomore year.
“Something big about our freshman floor was the vibe that we got,” she said. “Our floor got along really well, and we would all go out together. Our RAs did a lot for that, too.”
Pierce’s large group was not unique; four other girls from Liggett 2 lived in a suite together sophomore year. Of about 45 students on the original floor, Pierce estimated that over 25 lived with floormates again.
Junior Yogitha Potini, who has lived with freshman floormates every year, explained that it’s a matter of comfort and familiarity.
“These are the people who know you better than anyone else, since they’ve been around you all the time,” she said.
But the reasons for living with freshman floormates again go beyond friendship bonds. Many students pointed out that there’s a simple convenience factor in living with people you’ve already lived with before.
“You’ve gotten to know these people so well in freshman year, and you know that they’re people you can live with again,” said senior SegolÅ ne Zimmern, who lived with her roommate from freshman year three years in a row. “My freshman roommate and I just really knew each other’s space and when not to cross the line.”
Potini agreed. “With outside friends, even if you’re really close, you don’t know how that will translate into living with them,” she said.
It’s also important to note that Residential Life offers incentives to live with freshman floormates again through their dorm preference programs. Freshmen dorms often have sister dorms that house sophomores and students from the freshmen dorms get preference for housing spots in the sophomore dorm the following year. For example, Podolsky’s freshmen dorm was linked to the sophomore dorm Gregg, so many of her floormates chose to live together again because they’d get priority for the new and desirable suites in Gregg.
Whatever the reason for living together again, the pattern seems to be increasing.
“We continue to have more and more sophomores [from the same freshman floors] who shoot to live together,” said Cheryl Stephens, assistant director of Residential Life.
Across the board, students emphasize time spent and physical proximity as important factors for both creating deep friendships and finding convenient future roommates. It begs the potentially touchy question: if you had lived on a different floor, would you have made equally strong bonds with other people? More bluntly, is the freshman floor dynamic likely to create strong friendships regardless of the individuals? And the next question: if you hadn’t lived with the people from your freshman floor but had met them elsewhere, would you be such good friends?
Behrens offered a mixed answer. “If I didn’t live on that floor, I think I would be closer friends with the people that I did live with,” he said. “Wash. U. is small, but it’s not that small. In the first few weeks [of freshman year], people divide up according to the floors and buildings they live in.”
Behrens added that many of his friends from Koenig 3 share his interests and participate in similar campus activities and groups, which has strengthened their friendships and also makes it likely that he would have been friends with them even if they hadn’t lived on the same freshman floor.
Pierce remarked that time is a good friendship-builder, but it’s also a good test of friendship.
“It’s easy to be friends with people for a year,” she said.
After freshman year, even people who live together again can experience changes in their friendships, or shift toward other friendships.
Podalsky said this was her experience. “There were other people from my freshman floor who I didn’t know as well then, but who have become some of my closest friends now. The dynamic has to be right,” she said. “Each friendship is different because of what you experience with that person and where you experience it.”
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