The other day while I was killing time before a meeting, I sat down and read in one of the comfy chairs in Rector. As I sat, I realized I had not read in Rector since my sophomore year. As an English major, my time is primarily spent in East College. There are few instances in which I find myself in Rector, a science building. Nevertheless, during my sophomore year I found it incredibly comfortable to read in Rector. The seats were comfy, the tables spacious, and there was enough room that I did not find myself distracted by hordes of other students.
Yet time went on and I went abroad, and by the time I returned to campus, I had forgotten about my favorite study spot. Instead, I find myself these days reading in the library, specifically the writing center. This has to do with my comfort level in these buildings. Sometimes it is intimidating to enter what have been designated as science buildings for fear that I will be judged for reading a novel instead of a textbook. The writing center is where I work, so I feel comfortable relaxing and reading there. It is interesting to see how students enforce these somewhat segregated roles onto the buildings on campus, saying that “I’ve never set foot in Denny because I don’t take history classes,” or “I only have classes in Kaufman because I’m a psych major.”
This makes me wonder about the accessibility certain places have. This refers not only to official regulations, such as rules that excluded women in libraries as Virginia Woolf notes, but also unofficial understandings of people, place, and belonging. The instance that I bring up refers to a very specific case on a college campus, but there have no doubt been other instances where people find themselves unwelcome to read in a space, for whatever reason. Perhaps someone feels uncomfortable reading in a park located in a bad neighborhood. Perhaps someone receives angry looks from employees whenever they start to read in a bookstore instead of browse. Perhaps someone’s key card access does not let them into a building which has ample space in which to relax with a book. Whatever the case, it is clear that certain reading spaces feel barred to certain people. Now that I am aware of this startling fact, I will definitely try to read in Rector more often. I just have to gather my courage first…


3 Comments so far

  1.    Claire Bowen on March 3, 2013 2:55 pm

    Those “unofficial” regulations are so insidious, Taylor, and become so internalized that (to take the Dickinson campus as the example) students don’t even realize that they’re *choosing* to ascribe to them. Hence, “I don’t take history so….” Nice work.

  2.    Miriam on March 3, 2013 6:46 pm

    It is interesting to see that certain majors feel more comfortable in certain buildings. I never really thought of it as necessarily segregated. As a science major, I do spend a good deal of time studying in rector, but I also go places like Althouse to mix it up a bit. For me, I choose Rector because of the familiarity and not the “community” of other science majors. Do you think people choose where they study based on the associations they make between buildings and their studies or do you think it is truly based on a sense of belonging? Whatever your answer is, I promise to never glare if I see you reading a novel in one of the comfy chairs in Rector!

  3.    Emma Green on March 4, 2013 9:15 pm

    Taylor, I love that you bring this up because, as both you and Prof. Bowen touched on, the “segregation” affiliated with specific buildings on campus (and in other settings) is not very salient. However, I was thinking about places where such segregation is more obvious even though they’d be great places from any and all to read and/or talk about what we’ve read. For example, a men’s clubhouse or the Ladies’ Book Circle that used to exist in my hometown. In the first, women may very well be actively prohibited in this space. The latter was simply started by women but allowed men to join as well. However, as far as I know, no men ever did. I think it is interesting to think about how gendered words, titles, etc. can suggest (on purpose or not) restrictions on where we’re allowed to read.

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