It is said that college is supposed to be the best four years of your life. This is largely because it’s the juncture where two very important things meet: vast amounts of freedom and minimal responsibility.
It’s so nice, in fact, that the years immediately after college kind of suck. Recent graduates pine for their friends, their sororities and fraternities, and the ability to party every weekend. But me, I’m pining for my dorm.
Because I didn’t live in just any cellblock-chic shithole; I lived in an on-campus house. And not just any house, but a house packed with 13 full-time feminists of varying levels of hippie-dom, from all walks of life. It was amazing.
OK, so the house itself wasn’t exactly “amazing.” It was actually falling apart. There were holes in the walls, moldy socks stopping leaks in the pipes, and if one too many people were smoking on the balcony, you could feel it shift underneath the weight.
The basement was something out of a Japanese horror film (you know, the ones with the creepy kids) and there was never a time where there wasn’t at least one major appliance broken.
But that’s beside the point. What made the house, The Women’s House (or WoHo for short), so wonderful were the people who lived in it. Students had to apply and interview to live there, knowing full-well they would be required to do community projects every semester. This meant WoHo was full of college students—male and female—who made the decision to dedicate time and energy to putting on individual projects every semester based on feminist and LGBTIQA themes.
We didn’t get any academic credit for taking on these projects, and we certainly didn’t get enough money to do them, but we took time out of our busy schedules—frequently putting our collective sanity on the line—to do them because they mattered. The projects could take any form, from something small like a movie viewing and discussion, to bigger projects like Love Your Body Day and our campus’ Take Back the Night event, which had (and still has) some of the biggest attendance rates for a college our size.
Over the three years I lived there, I tried (and failed) to set up an LGBTIQA discussion circle; raised money to buy sanitary pads for underprivileged girls in Kenya; set up a week’s worth of programming focusing on racial, religious, and sexual discrimination; and so much more.
Because of my housemates’ projects, I was able to march for sexual assault prevention, take part in a SLUTwalk, meet Gloria Steinem in person, go to the National Feminist Conference in Washington, D.C., and learn so much about how feminism is still needed in all corners of the world.
We also knew how to have fun. Topless laps around the house after consuming large amounts of questionable punch occurred frequently, and we threw some pretty great dance and murder mystery parties in our time.
However, living with 13 people in a cramped house with only three bathrooms wasn’t always easy. In fact, it rarely was.
As I mentioned earlier, the house was falling apart, which interfered with daily life in a pretty major way every now and again. Privacy was also a hot commodity. If you made it a week without seeing someone naked or hearing someone have sex in graphic detail, it was a feat.
The toughest part, however, had to do with the fact that when you live with so many people, all of whom are in a major transitional period of their lives, it guarantees that at any given moment there is someone going through a breakup, applying to grad school, recovering from a traumatic experience, failing a class, losing a loved one, suffering from mental illness, abusing alcohol or drugs, or just generally not doing well. I was very frequently one of those people. We all were at one point or another. We had our fair share of inner house conflict, and it seemed like friendships and relationships began and ended in that house every other day.
I’d be lying if I said there weren’t days when I considered moving out before having to sit through yet another house meeting about who was leaving rotting dishes out, or the umpteenth viewing of the seminal classic, "Bridesmaids."
I'm an only child, and it was tempting at times to apply for a single dorm so I wouldn’t have to worry about the general discomfort of living with a lot of people with very big and very different personalities.
But I never did. The opportunities I was given and the occasional drawbacks I had to deal with while living there were only a small part of my experience. The biggest benefit of living in a house with 13 feminists is profoundly simple: They become a family.
The paper thin, slanted walls of that house and the people within them carried me through some of the most heart-wrenching experiences of my adult life. They carried me through two breakups; three losses; countless lost friendships; a sexual assault, and its harrowing aftermath.
They carried me through depression, and drinking, and throwing up, and doing it all over again. They carried me as I grew up, and they helped me become a self-possessed, strong woman who is no longer so afraid of asking for what she wants.
In some ways, I owe everything I have now to WoHo. I would not have majored in journalism without the encouragement of one of my dearest friends and former roommates. I wouldn’t have earned my degree if my housemates hadn’t held my hand throughout the aftermath of my sexual assault. I wouldn’t have turned that degree into a career of writing for and about women without the near-constant feminist inspiration that house gave and continues to give me.
In short, I would not be me, because my hands, along with the hands of my housemates, put together the crumbling bricks and rattling pipes of that house to build my backbone, and to help me stand on my own as a fully-realized individual.
I like to think I helped do the same for them. Though if you ask me, they hardly needed my help. I am in deep worship of these talented, brilliant women and men who I was lucky enough to spend my college years with. I think about them every day (and not just because I’m engaged to and living with one of them.)
In the weeks before my particular class of WoHo residents graduated, we all went together to get tattoos of "94"—our house’s number. We did it, in part, to connect us for life. But we also did it, I think, because it’s no secret that my alma mater is preparing to tear many of the themed houses down to build trendier apartment buildings. So we gave our literally crumbling home a piece of immortality on each of us.
I guess this piece, in some ways, is a eulogy to the place I knew, and so many women and men knew before me over the last 40 years. The place where we grew, and loved, and cried, and laughed through a vital chapter of our young lives. It will live forever in the people it sheltered.