BRADSHAW: Kissam — too big to succeed


Meredith Bradshaw, Guest Columnist

Kathy Yuan

I had no idea how miserable I was in Kissam until I lived in Towers.

I spent a year and a half in Warren — in a double during its pilot year and then in a suite upon returning from a semester abroad. I want to be as fair as possible in my analysis of College Halls. I know Vanderbilt had grand plans for this living and learning community, but in my opinion, those plans fell short.

First, I’ll mention the positive components of College Halls. The dining options are truly the best campus has to offer — Kissam has a kickass Munchie Mart, and the Kitchen offers a variety of healthy food selections. The building also houses a myriad of quiet study spaces, ranging from the individual study rooms, to the common rooms on each floor, to the two large great rooms in Kissam Center. Facilities are exceptional, rooms have large windows to allow for natural lighting and I always had more closet space than clothes.

Then why was I happy to leave?

Unlike the Commons, which is renowned for thriving communities within each of the houses, Kissam is practically void of community. The “first-year” status creates a sense of unity amongst the residents in Commons houses. Few people have friends upon entering college, so they naturally gravitate toward people in their dorms. Then they become friends. But when students enter Kissam in their sophomore, junior or senior years, they already have friends. They are already involved in 20 activities. Now that they’re past their first year, they don’t need to find friends on their hall.

This leads me to the problem I find with the Kissam community: Kissam is disunited. I was placed on a very diverse hall, and for the record, I love meeting new people from different backgrounds. But because we were all so diverse, we had nothing to bind us together. My understanding was that the College Halls programming was supposed to create this awesome sense of community amongst the diverse individuals. We were encouraged to go to weekly floor game nights, Kissam-specific events and dinners with the faculty Head of House. Kissam itself was the intended uniting factor, but since people already had their friend groups, the programming often wasn’t enticing enough to prompt many people to come.

Kissam is isolating. Situated on a quiet corner of campus, the dorms include cavernous hallways, singles, doubles and suites. Seriously, have you seen how large the suites are? I felt separated not only geographically within the larger Vanderbilt community, but also from the other rooms within my suite and my hall. To give you an idea of its size: a roundtrip venture to Munchie took at least 15 minutes during the day. When the breezeway locked at 8:00 p.m., I had to re-enter through the front door of Warren, so a trip to Munchie would take approximately 20 minutes: ten minutes of browsing Munchie and an equal time spent in transit. The quiet, capacious ambiance may be perfect for some, but if you’re looking for an active social environment within Kissam, good luck finding one.

Kissam is a fortress. I had to swipe up four separate times to get into my suite. Did you know you have to swipe non-residents onto the first floor to get out of the building? And maybe you’ve heard about the faulty card swipes. You never knew when the card swipes would go down. You’d swipe into the dorm and assume you’d be in the clear. But then you’d try and swipe your card in the elevator, and the scanner would unexpectedly flash the dreaded blue instead of the affirmative green. One time, I was locked into the building as I was trying to leave for class — a group of five of us journeyed to the ground floor instead of the first floor, depositing us by the dumpsters at the back of the building. Perhaps this sounds whiny and entitled — so sad, these spoiled brats occasionally get locked out of (or inside) the building. But what happens if the fire alarm goes off and the sensors are down? Or if someone is in a red-dot situation and needs to leave the building pronto? Even worse, what if you don’t live in Kissam, don’t have card access, encounter one of these problems and can’t swipe onto the first floor? Since the building is so desolate, few people are available to offer card swipes to non-residents.

Finally, I fundamentally disagree with Kissam’s strict housing policy. If you go abroad, you can kiss your Kissam status goodbye. I struck an agreement with another girl living in Warren that allowed me to live in a suite my second semester when she went abroad, with the understanding that senior year, I would live somewhere else and she would take my spot. Since this was the exception rather than the rule, we had to jump through dozens of hoops with housing for over a year to make this plan happen — Vanderbilt still has me logged in the system as “living in Towers,” but “a resident of Kissam,” tampering with both my meal plan and my parking options. In addition, once you are accepted into Kissam, you can only cross-house with people in your specific College Hall. I suppose this makes sense, since the Kissam founders have been trying to instill continuity within those houses. However, even though I had a lot of friends in Moore (but not Warren, where I lived), we couldn’t enter the same ballot. Again, isolating.

What can Vandy do? Nothing can be done about Kissam’s size. But since its colossal structure hurt, rather than helped, the sense of community, I would focus primarily on the community factor itself. People living in other living and learning communities — the Mayfields, McTyeire, and McGill — all have a reason for living there, whether that reason is service, foreign languages, or finding a safe haven despite feeling “different” from the rest of the Vanderbilt community.* In order to be considered a living and learning community, Kissam’s residents need to know exactly what they will be learning.

I am spending my senior year in Towers, and I could not be happier. Sure, the suites are smaller, my toilet paper dispensers hardly revolve, and the lighting is ratchet AF, but the pros outweigh the cons: I’m not locked into the required 12-meal Kissam meal plan. I have a full kitchen with an oven and stove, neither of which exist in Kissam suites. I don’t hear crow dispersal recordings, complete with the crow’s signature cry of distress. I see my Elliston 4 RA every other day since she too has moved to Towers. The Towers front door reliably opens when I swipe in. But best of all, Towers is bustling with people. It feels like a neighborhood. It feels like a community.

*This description of McGill came from Julia McCorvey, a two-year resident of McGill.