A Heart Beats for Upperclass Dorm Life


Nassau Weekly Article (5/2/85)

By Randy Schoenberg

Assistant Dean of Students Patsy Cole, in her first year at Princeton, is at the heart of a new effort to improve upperclass residential life. She calls her plan “PULSE” and she expects it to add a new dimension to dormitory living. PULSE is designed to bring students together, to develop a sense of community in the dorms, and to establish a communication link between students and administration that will facilitate the quick resolution of housing problems. To enact her plan, Cole has solicited the opinions and service of various members of the University community, the Maintenance Office, the Housing Office, Building Services, the Residence Committee and interested upperclassmen. Together they have drawn up broad guidelines for PULSE, which will begin next year.

Bob Sweeney, the Dorm Manager of Building Services, explains some of the impetus behind the creation of PULSE. “It seems that with [the students’] evolution from the residential colleges to upperclass housing, they lose something. They can make it more than just the humdrum dorms they have now. They can have a social life and the common spaces that they have in the first two years and not in the last two.” Although the complete structure has not yet been fully worked out, certain features of PULSE are certain: in the fall, each dorm will select representatives and possibly a dorm council. The number of representatives will depend on the size of the building, but most dorms will have two. Those representatives will communicate closely with the PULSE administrators and will be responsible for checking on common areas and turning in maintenance checklists. The representatives will also be able to organize dorm social events, made possible with money from PULSE. The number of PULSE activities will depend solely on the amount of interest in the dorms.

To introduce the program, PULSE is sponsoring a party for the classes of ’86 and ’87, next year’s juniors and seniors. The party, which will feature music and free ice cream, is scheduled for May 9, from 3:00 to 5:00 in the courtyard behind Blair Arch next to the U-Store. In order to attract students to the party, Cole has begun a publicity campaign which includes posters with no message, just the organization’s symbol and the name—PULSE. So far, the acronym has no meaning except to connote something which is, as Cole puts it, “alive and beating.”

Based on a similar plan at Brown called “Grassroots,” PULSE is designed to foster interaction between students and administrators so that student needs can be better satisfied. Cole describes it as “a way to enhance communication, a network. It’s a way to make certain that administrators know what’s going on.”

The checklists serve two functions. First, they will provide a sure method of communication with the Maintenance and Building Services by providing a continuous report on the condition of dorm common areas. Second, they provide the Residence Committee with documentation to back up their recommendations for housing improvement. “The idea,” explains Cole, “is that students feel that they have a direct ear on the administration.”

“Many students are unsure of how to get things done in the common areas, bathrooms, hallways, and kitchens,” explains Judy Hanson, Director of Grounds and Building Maintenance Department. “PULSE” gives students people to contact, and gives us students to contact.” But the checklists are not meant to be the first resort. “PULSE does not preclude existing systems,” says Cole. “The students should at least call Housing or Maintenance. Then if it is put on the checklist, we know that they have already called and the problem still exists.” Hanson echoes this concern. “We still expect students to take responsibility for their own rooms. We have a fairly responsive system right now for routine problems. We’re really trying to improve the give and take. It’s an educational process for both sides.” The most notable improvement will be student responsibility for the common areas, so that if anything happens there, the proper administrators will be notified.

But Cole is mostly excited about the possibilities for enhancing dorm environment in less tangible ways. “My hope is that people will get to know other people, and think of their dorms as homes. It always surprises me that people who even live next door to one another don’t know each other by name.” Katherine Fritts, a junior who became involved with PULSE after many conversations with Cole on maintenance problems, agrees. “It’s not meant to put responsibility or work on anyone. It’s just to make people happier. I think it’s strange that you see people in your dorms and you don’t know their names. Dorm representatives will be able to get money for special dorm events. Cole hopes that this will provide the opportunity for people to meet and get involved with each other. “It has the potential for active involvement. I see it as a means of bringing people together in the cause of making the dorm a positive place to live.” Fritts believes that establishing the structure of dorm activities will be all that is needed to establish a greater sense of community. “The whole idea is that people do what they want to do. They can go to a play or movie, have parties, popcorn—anything except alcohol. We assume that people, if they have money, will figure out ways to use it. We are just building a structure so that people can do what they want.”

One of the things Cole thinks that students might want is computers. “Having computers in the dorms becomes more possible through a program like this. If we make people responsible, they will keep an eye on the computers. There’s a greater chance that they’ll be aware of what’s happening in their dorm. I hope that within the next couple of years, we’ll be able to install computers in the upperclass dorms.”

Another addition to the dorms which Cole thinks will be more feasible with the PULSE network is a common room. “We have entryways and not many common places in which to gather. Some time down the road we’ll have to look into common spaces.” Cole believes the checklists make it more likely that these changes can be made. “The checklists are a vehicle to document the need.”

The success or failure of these programs will depend on the involvement of the students. “We hope to have some money available for dorms,” says Cole, “so they can put on programs for themselves to develop a sense of community. The beauty of this program is that it’s completely dependent on the relative effort that students put in themselves. And it doesn’t take that much effort. The only strings attached are that students keep us informed of things. If the students put in a little effort, we in the administration can go a lot further in helping them.”

Fritts thinks that once people begin to get involved, others will follow. “It’s not meant to be anything that’s imposed on anyone. Hopefully, people will use it for good things, and others will see that things can be done.”

At the ice cream party on May 9, Cole will ask for students who are interested in being dorm representatives to put their names down on a list. These volunteers will be contacted over the summer and the selection of dorm representatives will begin as early as freshman week. If all works out as Cole envisions, a new dimension will be added to upperclass social life. Cole hopes that at the very least, PULSE will provide students with a structure for contacting appropriate administrators about dorm maintenance and improvement. The potential for improvement is immense; the only limitation is the ingenuity and interest of upperclass students.