Commentary, Opinion

Campus Conversation: First year residence—a house or a home?

Editor’s note: For many McGill students, the first campus community that they encounter is in residence. The McGill Tribune Opinion section asked contributors to draw on their personal experiences living in residence (or not), to answer the question, “Do McGill residences facilitate community-building, and if so, how?”

Bryan BuragaLucas BirdKyle DewsnapGabriel Rincon

Gardner Hall

Bryan Buraga, Contributor

Starting at McGill University this past September, my housing situation was uncertain. I was one of the hundred or so unfortunate students who did not know which residence they would be living in until late August. I was lucky to be assigned to Gardner Hall. One of the first things I noticed after moving into residence in August was how diverse the body of residents was. I met introverts, extroverts, people from my hometown, and people from an ocean away. I felt like I could find a group that I could call my friends—and soon after, I did.

An ideal first-year community is one that is welcoming to people from all walks of life. For students who enjoy drinking and partying, the near-nightly legendary pre-games in the common rooms characterize the atmosphere of Upper Rez. However, for students who are not partiers or are more on the introverted side, this side of McGill residences risks alienating them in a place they are just beginning to call home.

At the same time, I found it easy to find friends among both groups of people. I had plenty of exposure to partiers, but was also able to reach out to more introverted people in intimate settings, such as floor teas and coffeehouses.

As I met other McGill students throughout the year, I found that I could instantly form a connection with those who also lived in Upper Rez. This was due to our shared experiences, from struggling up University Street on our way home, to dealing with co-ed washrooms. My friends in hotel-style residences considered those of us who were in dorm-style residences lucky, because it was easier for us to meet people in this setting. The familial environment in Gardner stood in stark contrast to the isolation they sometimes felt due to their style of residence. They felt that we had more of a sense of community—and honestly, I agreed with them. Like actual hotel guests, it is much easier for hotel-style residents to minimize their interactions with their neighbours. Dorms offer more opportunities to see the same people over and over again, especially in common spaces like the washrooms.

Residences provide a place for students to find their first community at McGill, and while school clubs or intramural teams can provide that welcoming space as well, being closer to other people who are going through a similar experience is more conducive to forming a sense of community. This sense of community is what built my time in Gardner into a formative student experience.


MORE House

Lucas Bird, Contributor

I live on Avenue des Pins, in one of McGill’s big, brown stone MORE houses. The house holds roughly a dozen first-year students, including myself. While my housemates are lovely people, and we resolve living issues pretty well, I am not super close with any of them.

As far as I can tell, this goes for most of the other people in the house. We say “Hi” when we pass each other in the hall, recount our days when we burst into the living room, but no one is particularly attached to each other. We each have our own separate friend groups, which the other people in the house aren’t necessarily aware of—except for happenstance, like the time I encountered my floormate Wendy and her friends playing Just Dance at 2 a.m. This polite separation is exactly what I hoped for when I ranked the MORE house as my first choice, because it fosters a trait that I have cherished throughout my first year experience: Independence.

In my experience, these residences are not particularly good at cultivating an internal community. Admittedly, this might be because I don’t pay close attention to my house advisor’s emails regarding teatime and pizza parties. More importantly, though, I think it’s because that isn’t what the MORE house is meant to do. Out of all the first-year residences, the brown stones are as close as a student can get to apartment-style living. There are separate rooms, a single kitchen, and some common areas, but all are designed around the general structure of autonomous living. Many students would say rez communities are crucial to first-year life, and they’re correct, but proximity shouldn’t be the defining factor of a community. Strong relationships are formed through agency, not adjacency.

Within the first five hours of my arrival at McGill, I was in the basement of a different first-year residence, University Hall. Hardly a day has passed where I haven’t spent at least a few hours in that very same building, because it’s home to the people closest to me. This place has served as a sheltering abode for me during my first year. I have become inseparably close with its inhabitants, to the extent that some of them were surprised to learn late in first semester that I didn’t actually live there.

University Hall has become my community because I sought it out, and it welcomed me with open arms. The MORE house didn’t hand me my crew on a silver platter—it encouraged me to go out and create a community of my own. My friends are not my friends just because we live in the same building. I chose them and they chose me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Solin Hall

Kyle Dewsnap, Contributor

Like most first years in my residence, I ranked Solin Hall lowest on my rez application because it is particularly far from campus. While other residences are peppered around McGill’s Downtown campus, Solin is in the Sud-Ouest neighbourhood, a three-stop metro ride away from campus. So when I learned that I was going to be put into an apartment at Solin, I was a bit apprehensive. However, now two years into my degree at McGill, I can say with certainty that Solin Hall has created one of the best communities for me at McGill.

Although Solin is far away from campus, the unique experiences that the residence offered quickly outweighed the slight inconvenience of the commute. Solin is an apartment-style rez. Each apartment has two to four bedrooms, and a common area with a full kitchen. Meal plans are optional, meaning most people who I lived with in Solin opted to cook for themselves. I was lucky enough to be in a four-bedroom apartment, which taught me the virtues of shared living (if someone says their cast-iron pan is off-limits, that means it’s off-limits). Living in such a unique space allowed me and my roommates to form unique and genuine bonds that come from sharing an apartment, rather than just sharing a hotel room.

Our floor fellows took good care in ensuring that the first two weeks of rez were filled with ice-breakers. However, unique to Solin, one floor fellow is designated as a project manager, whose sole job is to organize a year-long project made up of monthly rez-wide activities centred on a theme. In our year, the theme was metro-based. This meant that Solinites didn’t suffer the same kind of “post-Frosh cooldown” that students in other residences did; there was always something going on at Solin that kept us excited to get out of the McGill bubble and explore the city.

Perhaps united by our collective anxiety over needing to wait in line at Berri-UQAM metro station for an OPUS card, the bond we Solinites formed was instantaneous and strong. I met my current roommate on the first night of move-in, and my old roommates and I still talk whenever we bump into each other on campus. Traditions that my friends and I began in our first semester still occur regularly today. While it was a minor inconvenience to take the metro to get to class, the Solin community helped me get through the transition to a new city and school, and was easily the best part of my first year.


Off campus housing

Gabriel Rincon, Columnist

I didn’t live in a McGill residence in my first year. As a transfer student from Saint Mary’s University, I wasn’t guaranteed residence, so I had to find housing off-campus. I came to McGill firmly believing that living in residence was the best way to find a community of friends at the University. As a result, I was worried that I would have trouble making friends. I tried to replicate the McGill rez experience by living in a hotel-style student residence close to Concordia called St. Cathy’s. I haven’t stayed in touch with anyone I met there.

Needless to say I didn’t make any friends, or interact with my building community in a meaningful way. Living alone really wasn’t conducive to being social, especially for a person as introverted as myself. This meant I didn’t really experience the stereotypical first-year McGill rituals of house parties and clubbing on the weekend. And since I didn’t necessarily participate in the drinking culture, McGill seemed a little lonely at times.

Instead, I found my communities by participating in extracurricular activities, including writing for The McGill Tribune and playing intramural basketball. I also made one of my best friends in class and he brought me into the Kappa Alpha Society. At the society I have made what I know will be lifelong friendships. But by far the most important community for me has been my family. My aunt and uncle live here in Montreal and were incredibly supportive in my first year, and through them I met other Colombian families in Montreal. And, of course, my mother and father were always there for me even though they live far away. Unlike any other college freshman, I called my mom everyday.

Although I think I have found my communities at McGill, if I could do it again I would’ve preferred to live in McGill residence. Living alone was very isolating and I simply didn’t interact with as many people as I would’ve liked. Finding a community where one feels at home is incredibly important for first-years, not only to avoid the loneliness, but also because Montreal is a great city to experience with friends. I feel like I did miss out on some of those experiences, especially in first year. However, the reassuring thing about McGill is that it’s so big that everyone is bound to find a community that suits them, just as I did.

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