My sophomore spring and summer were essentially nine consecutive months of what felt like dress-up. This table-waiting, trail-running young adult had her very first desk job, in a real office suite complete with a copy machine named Marilyn and an industrial-sized Keurig. From January straight through August I shared that office and a pink-collar lifestyle with three other students. When I arrived on my first day of work I bounded into the windowless room so excited to claim my corner desk, my desktop computer, my cushy swirly chair. I wasted no time settling in. A colorful ceramic mug here, a nostalgic photograph there; my desk was a home that year.
I’ve got a feeling that for many college students, their connection to their campus is a similar kind of love affair. So far removed from the towns we grew up in and years away from any kind of permanence, we latch on to the places we feel at home. The dorm I live in becomes my dorm. The nook in the library I like becomes my nook. And the office we once worked in for nine months becomes our office. The sense of community, however temporary, is something that we constantly seek out. It’s something we encourage one another to do, and it goes beyond the physical spaces we claim. We forge friendships and build community on the fly, when there’s a void to be filled and a loneliness to satisfy.
That office was host to a year of maturation and professional development that shaped the rest of my college career, but was I entitled to call it home? Sure, I wore flats instead of flip-flops and conservatively-cut dresses instead denim shorts. I left my repertoire of swear words at home and developed a “phone voice.” So what if I didn’t own a single pair of slacks and never remembered the password to the copy machine? The office forgave these trespasses against its revered nine-to-five culture and made these little exceptions for us. Never mind that our time in the office was short-lived and our bosses would replace us when our time was up.
Sure enough, summer ended and so did our contracts. With our rainbow sticky note wallpaper dismantled and our coffee-stained mugs in hand, we trudged out of the office as fully-fledged paraprofessionals so reluctant to surrender the space that had transformed us. We were so unwilling to hand it over, since we felt it had become ours.
Was this our triumph or transgression? Is it wrong to claim ownership of what is temporarily ours, or is it our right to do so? Can I truly call this space my home? At the risk of sounding entitled, I say yes.
I think it’s a wonderful quality in a college campus that students rotate in and out and all find the same sense of comfort in its spaces. As small as and as lonely as it can feel at the worst of times, it is always ready to lend itself out as a temporary home to thousands of students who, like me, are looking for a community to belong to. For me, that little fluorescent-lit office was sort of a halfway-house between aimless academic wandering and adulthood. It gave me a place to hang my nametag up. It gave me a place to call home, even just for a little while.
One of my fondest memories of that office is of a morning just weeks into my employment when I finished a rough exam with time to kill before my next class. I locked myself in the empty office, flicked off the lights, and curled up under my desk for a nap. I curled up with my winter coat softening the carpet-covered concrete floor and my sleeping desktop hard drive whirring away overhead, feeling safe. Perhaps that’s all we can ask for in our tumultuous coming-of-age years: a small corner where, miles away from our childhoods and years away from adulthood, we feel at home.