Mind the gap: the gender disparity in Heights

It is a Friday night in Heights, and the scene is not unfamiliar. To the left of the common room, shouts from the men’s baseball team quad fill the hallways; to the right, the same energy from the football and men’s crew teams. At the same time, tucked away on the second floor, the only quad filled with all women attempts to use the bathroom, which has been inadvertently transformed into a second men’s room. However, it is a task more complicated than any trip to the bathroom should be, as the lights have been out for days without repair, and will not get fixed until the weekend is over.

There is an overwhelmingly greater number of men who occupy Heights in comparison to women. In fact, Heights has one of the largest dorm gender disparities in recent history.

Out of 105 residents of Heights, only 17 are girls, or a little over 16 percent of the residence hall. The Echo sat down with Signy Coakley ’18 and Kelley Fitzpatrick ’18, two of  Heights female occupants, to try to better understand what residential life this year has entailed for them.

They both shared the sentiment that Heights is not welcoming to girls. “Obviously on the surface level, it is a little weird being some of the few girls who live in Heights. Heights in general

d grit; it’s a brick 80’s castle that constantly smells of Domino’s and Axe.” Coakley also recalled an exchange she shared with the Heights custodian regarding this feeling. “I remember the first weekend back at school, and I woke up early to get some water outside when I ran into this nice janitor. I gave her a little smile and she looked at me and said, ‘It’s so nice to have a girl in this dorm! Finally, an ally!’”

However, her living situation hasn’t been completely negative. In fact, Coakley and Fitzpatrick both enjoy the communal feel that Heights offers. “I actually love having a ton of boys living in Heights because it’s like having an infinite supply of brothers. They’re all easy going and they actually love to come hang out in our quad because it’s so girly and bright when juxtaposed to their rooms. Whenever we have guy friends over they always comment on how feminine, bright, and ‘homey’ our quad feels. There’s a nice fluidity in how Heights people socialize; we all kind of pop into each other’s rooms (boys and girls alike) throughout the day, so it normalizes living with mostly boys.”

The bathrooms still remain the biggest challenge for Coakley, Fitzpatrick, and their roommates, who admit that they’ve created a “buddy system” to shower. “[Showering] is actually a terrifying experience. We cannot tell you how many times we’ve run into a herd of guys in nothing but our towels. Generally, our quad tries to go in pairs to shower, because there’s nothing more terrifying than running into a swarm of guys all fighting for the shower. The worst is when you’re already in one of the showers, and you can hear the boys waiting outside for you to finish up. That, and then walking out, soaked in your towel, is very mortifying.”

For some of the men, it was the similar community feel cited by the women that drew them to elect to live  in Heights. “I actually like Heights a lot and the people that are here,” Men’s Crew team captain Tomotaka Cho ’18 said. He lives in a quad with three other teammates. “People don’t like it because of the smell and sometimes how loud it can be on the weekends, but everyone gets along in the dorm so I don’t mind it. It is convenient having all of your friends in one place and the rooms are actually really nice.”

The Echo was also able to discuss the gender disparity in Heights with Community Advisor Omalara Akingba, whose job is to navigate through and take control of any dorm issues this year. “There are not that many girls on my floor, so the boys are with whom I usually interact.” When asked if this is difficult, Akingba responded, “I find myself being straightforward and direct in order to get across to many of them. Not in a bad way, just sometimes males think they don’t have to listen to females, especially one that is shorter and smaller than them.”

It is not clear why Heights has a legacy of being male dominated, and there are several different speculated factors:  does Heights attract interest from men, detract that of women, or is it combination of both? Akingba seems to agree with the fact that it may be a combination. “I think because of the kind of dorm that Heights is, it naturally attracts male sports teams.” She added, “the reputation of Heights is probably the cause of the gender disparity. Females are less likely to willingly live somewhere with the reputation of Heights, so it ends up being a bit of a ‘boy’s club.’ I personally don’t mind this, as all the trouble makers are in one place and if necessary, they all go down together.”

Heights’ design allows for suite style living where all residents have singles and a large common space, something that is rare on Colby’s campus outside of the Alfond Apartment Complex. The large common spaces are conducive to having large social gatherings and parties, so Heights is often dominated by either male sports teams or friend groups who turn to Heights after losing out from an apartment pick.

Colby’s housing policy and housing selection process is gender blind, so housing decisions, with the exception of residential life for incoming first years, are conducted with no consideration for gender breakdowns in dorms. The Echo reached out to the Office of Residential Life to comment on this aspect of room draw, but did not receive a response by print time.

But is the concept of a male dominated dorm really an issue? Akingba seemed to think that it was not necessarily a problem, but more a phenomenon. However, like most past and current Heights residents, she urges the college to consider upgrading the building, since the lack of amenities and overall poor condition is what initially drives many students away. “Heights needs to be revamped, remodeled and refurbished to not look like a prison. It is because of this that people have no qualms with destroying it. If it looks as clean as Frat Row, there would be less damage to it. We also need stricter punishments for letting sports teams who are notorious for partying into Heights and hold them to a higher standard- people already assault the apartments enough.”

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