An Education: Lessons Learned from Converse Hall

Incoming college students can arm themselves with myriad study guides, syllabi, and workshops that promise to deliver academic success. What they don’t prepare you for is the various oddities of day-to-day dorm life.

My education has been delivered to me courtesy of UVM’s oldest (and spookiest) dorm: Converse Hall.

My first rude awakening was that locking your door here is a necessity. Coming from the Living/Learning Center, where we left our doors open 24 hours a day and were unfazed to come home to people in our rooms who didn’t live there, this was a weird adjustment.

Attic, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.
Attic, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

I came home not long ago to the smell that was part opium den, part Easter vigil, and part Seattle basement. The smell was expected. The bedraggled middle-aged man wandering my hallway and knocking on doors was not.

 After kindly telling me many stories of his time at UVM in the ‘70s, he went on to explain an elaborate conspiracy involving banks and invite me to an “all ages, BYOB barn dance.” I still can’t decide what my favorite part of that concept is.

I turned him down. Don’t get me wrong, he was a nice dude. But even I knew that sounded like a bad idea. Apparently there was a naked man running through the building the other day, too, which should have been surprising news when I heard it, but wasn’t.

Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.
Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

Anyway: I lock my door now. I feel pretty good about that decision.

I’ve also stopped expecting anything to really be where it’s supposed to be. Couches routinely turn up part way down stairwells. There’s a graveyard of unwanted bed frames in the attic and someone has managed to tear a sizeable hole in the ceiling. Like, big enough to hide treasure or a dismembered body in.

Some mornings, I’ve walked down to the basement to find all the pool cues stuck in the ceiling and the floor strewn with underwear and empty bottles. A miniature garden of potted plants and trays of germinating seeds clutters one of the the fourth floor window sills.

Somehow, the plants have made it this long, so I assume someone is taking care of them. Or at least taking as good care of them as college students take of themselves.

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Attic, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

There aren’t any secrets in Converse. Other than the ghost, that is. We don’t have your typical idiot-proof cinderblock dorm walls. I hear everything. I see everything. If you ever wondered what it would be like to be omniscient, just live in a centuries old dorm building. You will know everything you possibly could want to know.

I knew when the person living above me had the flu for a week. I know the fourth floor plays an impressive amount of Kendrick Lamar. Weirdly, I know a lot about the recent shares purchased on the stock market by the guys who smoke outside my window every night. Apparently Chipotle’s stock isn’t doing so hot. 

One of the more obvious, although most enduring lessons I’ve learned is that buildings built in 1895 behave exactly like you think they would. The pipes make this incredible banshee like shrieking noise whenever you turn the heat on and rattle against the wall. The tile on bathroom wall is falling off, leaving gaping holes. Ice freezes over the inside of the windowsills.

Attic, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON.
Attic, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON.

This fall, the fire alarms started going off everyday for absolutely no reason. We would all stumble outside in our barefeet and bathrobes and sulk until the fire department came. It was kind of bonding experience, I guess.

My favorite, though, is the attic. It’s like a room where Victorian gentlemen locked up their insane wives was redecorated by a carpet salesman from the ‘70s. You can’t really go for a cooler vibe than that.

Stairwell, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.
Stairwell, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

People complain a lot about Converse. And to be honest, I get it. The decrepit haunted mansion crossed with a frat party life isn’t for everyone. 1 AM fire alarms aren’t anyone’s favorite and thin walls (despite my newfound knowledge of the stock market) have their drawbacks.

So I don’t blame you if the Converse life isn’t for you, but if you need me, I will be hanging out in my creaky, weird, possibly haunted dorm room. Knock first— the door will be locked.

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