By Cam Tranchemontagne, Contributing Writer
For many first-time college students, living in a dorm can be an awkward and anxious experience. Living in a building with roughly 50 to hundreds of strangers creates an opportunity unlike any other to meet new people. Typically, dorms will have common areas where people will run into each other, such as the lounges, the bathrooms, the kitchen and even the hallways.
Although meeting new people can sometimes be uncomfortable, there is new research in the “British Journal of Social Psychology” that suggests that college students living in dorms and meeting by chance in common areas often became friends.
The study sampled 462 students from 13 different residence halls on a British campus. Alex Fradera, a psychologist who writes for the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, said about the study, “more chance meetings led to stronger interpersonal bonds with other residents, not just that week but also six and even 10 weeks later.”
Academics in sociology refer to these common areas as the “third place.”
Ray Oldenburg, a Florida resident and urban sociologist said, “Third places are nothing more than informal public gathering places. The phrase ‘third place’ derives from considering our homes to be ‘first’ places in our lives and our work places the ‘second.’”
Oldenburg also highlighted the role these informal gathering places have as they relate to individual and communal well-being.
“The third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends … they are the heart of a community’s social vitality, the grassroots of democracy; but sadly, they constitute a diminishing aspect of the American social landscape.”
So what about in the dormitories of the University of New Hampshire?
Nick Muldrow, a resident assistant in the Upper Quad, said he has noticed similar trends in the behavior of his residents. For the first week of school, Muldrow realized that nobody on his floor was opening their doors and everyone was just hanging out in their own rooms.
Recognizing a lack of community involvement, Muldrow immediately began encouraging his residents to leave their doors open and immediately his floor became a hub of social involvement.
“One of the most commonly used areas for people to meet is actually right outside of my door,” Muldrow said. “Especially with my freshmen, they will come talk to me and meet other freshmen … it definitely facilitated relationship building.”
Residents who also frequented community events, such as Muldrow’s s’mores social, were able to form nascent friendships. “The cool thing is now that those relationships are built, people always go out to lunch together, or go out for the weekend or form study groups,” he said.
Tom Williams, a freshman chemistry major living in Jessie Doe, also noticed the friendships formed in the early weeks of the semester.
“Our dorm is very social, so for the first few days we met and got to know each other by sitting and socializing in the main lounge,” Williams said.
He actually was already familiar with many people at UNH since he came from a high school where many people he graduated with end up in Durham; however, he said that living in a dorm “forced me to go out and meet new people that are now some of my best friends here.”