UMd. Dorm Caters to Serious, High-Minded Students

By Mizejewski, Gerald | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 7, 1999 | Go to article overview

UMd. Dorm Caters to Serious, High-Minded Students


Mizejewski, Gerald, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Dormitory life at a large American university is often associated with pizza, loud music, beer and boisterous behavior. The University of Maryland is quietly trying to change that.

Somerset Hall, a recently renovated dorm at the College Park campus, is designed to appeal to a different type of student: conscientious, considerate and civic-minded.

All the residents at Somerset are part of the Civicus Living and Learning Program, a new approach to dorm life started this semester that joins like-minded students in the same residence hall and weaves academics with social interaction.

Students living in Somerset signed agreements before move-in day stating that they will take on volunteer projects and dorm duties over the next two years. Together they will set up a "civil society" in the building that sets quiet hours, polices the kitchenette areas and governs the hall.

"This is like a return of the ancient Greek civilization," said Jasmine Thomas, a resident assistant who keeps an eye on a wing of girls.

Before the first week of classes came to a close, students mulched and watered an urban garden near Baltimore and made 1,200 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for nonprofit Martha's Table in the District.

As a perk, students enjoy air conditioning, larger rooms, even a "faux granite base in the bathrooms," as one student noted. Their dorm has a private computer room with 10 terminals and faculty members hold office hours there.

"It's a step above the average college experience. . . . It's not dorky," said senior participant Jessica Leshnoff, 20.

"I feel that the mentality of those people that live in the specialty housing is quite [a bit] higher because they're not going to just party."

Somerset Hall, formerly a run-down dorm primarily reserved for upperclassmen, is now home to one of the university's five living-learning programs.

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