Rising with the pack
By Brian Spegele
Erin Andrews is naked on a Monday night on the fifth floor of Briscoe-Gucker. In fact, the ESPN sportscaster, who was secretly videotaped in her hotel room this summer, may well be naked every night, thanks to LimeWire and Google Video.
Four freshman boys are sitting knee-to-knee on a couch made for three, in a room made for two. There’s a can of nearly empty Coors Light on the ground. Greasy Styrofoam plates are strewn about the floor. “Monday Night Football” commentary drones in the background.
“Tits! tits! tits!” they are chanting at a $1,700 MacBook Pro, which is streaming the pixilated peephole video. No doubt just a few weeks ago freshmen across the country were lobbying their parents for the highest-end laptop model.
Freshman dorms are a self-contained world for the thousands of IU students living in them. Governance is established early. Social credos emerge. Even the vernacular, while still English, changes upon entering this world. Much of the dialect centers on references to female genitalia, sexual intercourse, and verbiage developed to describe drinking cheap beer.
It’s a world that combines summer camp camaraderie, “Big Brother” drama, the Playboy mansion wardrobe, and “Lord of the Flies” anarchy. But in the words of floor dwellers, the first month of college is a time for growing up. It’s a time for building lifelong friendships. It’s a chance to simply worship the thrill of being 18 and free.
Down the hall from where the boys are watching Terrell Owens and Erin Andrews, Ryann Schram and Carly Comparet are chatting between themselves. The girls weren’t originally roommates. But when Ryann’s roommate never showed up, the two decided changing rooms to live together made sense.
Ryann is from Fort Wayne. She has dark brown hair, long eyelashes, and a smile that invites others to her. She has 1,033 friends on Facebook, and tonight is wearing sweatpants and a pink headband. Her walk is a bounce, and she bounces in and out of the room full of boys. She describes herself as one of them in many ways — unflappable, hardly offended, even crude herself. On a coed floor where the boys saunter around in their boxers and scream “tits!” unabashedly from their bedrooms, what other choice does she have? “It’s only when they have their hands down their pants,” she says. Then, they’ve gone too far.
Part of Ryann’s story can be gleaned from a few clicks on her Facebook page. She lost her phone recently, apparently as part of “a long night.” She likes “dancing, music, boys, traveling, and having fun.” She quotes Dr. Seuss about love. Lord Tennyson is quoted, too. Marilyn Monroe says, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”
Becca Jackson, another girl from the floor, rounds out the best-friend-trio. The girls don’t like to think they could meet their future husbands in the next four years. All three are single. They’re young and having just as much fun as the boys. Remove a groom from the marriage equation, however, and wedding plans for all three appear to be set. When Becca and Carly are bridesmaids in Ryann’s wedding, for example, they may wear whichever black dress they like, Ryann says. It will be a barefoot, beachfront occasion, as she describes it, shooting to Becca and Carly that toothy, almost mischievous, smile.
On the TV screen, the Patriots have just fumbled or scored or something, and cheers erupt from the room full of sweaty boys and the overcrowded couch and the Coors Light and the naked Erin Andrews. A table used for beer pong sits ever-ready in a room nearby. There’s been talk of painting that table, which was nabbed one recent night, heaved back to Briscoe along cop-filled roads, and dragged up an elevator before reaching its new home. It’s just a long, rectangular table, with a scratched surface and folding metal legs. Buying one wouldn’t cost much – certainly not as much as the bail at the county jail. But the intoxicating sense of freedom clouds what would otherwise be a simple risk analysis.
“You gotta see this,” they’ll tell visitors to the floor.
Each person who walks out of the elevator and down the hall passes the spot where a few residents posted floor “rules” recently. The floor rules are just like the U.S. Constitution, assuming the Constitution was printed in 12-point font on white computer paper. That’s also assuming the Constitution discriminated against a class of “butter faces” and overweight women in general.
For example, one rule prohibits sleeping with “fat chicks.” Several sources, however, confirm this requirement was broken one night in mid-September. Another policy, also for naught, states, “What happens on Gucker, stays on Gucker.” Governance, it appears, is simple. Common courtesy holds this world together.
Take these implied behavioral norms, for example:
- Drink as much as you want, just don’t vomit.
- Have sex whenever you like, just not when a roommate is present.
- Don’t steal. Ever.
- Talk loudly, whenever you like, just be mindful of lurking resident assistants during quiet hours.
On separate occasions, there’s talk of a girl who drinks too much. She vomits all the time, they say. A few of the boys suspect she has stolen beer from their refrigerators. That’s not on their minds this Monday, however. On the television, the Patriots are finally about to win. Popcorn is burning in the microwave. Ryann and Carly are giggling in the hallway.
Becca, Carly, and Ryann aren’t necessarily at IU by choice. Each one describes how she wanted to be elsewhere this year. For Becca, college was a chance to escape her “preppy and obnoxious” suburban Chicago hometown, and try her hand out west in Colorado. She’s a snowboarder and an environmental this-or-that major. She has a peace sign tattooed on her rib cage. Pressure from her parents eventually made her cave. For graduate school, she says she still plans to head west.
Carly was set on San Diego State University, but ties to home pulled her back. Her brother died unexpectedly a few years ago. She just couldn’t leave her family now. “I think I’d feel guilty,” she says.
For Ryann, college wasn’t in the plan. She wanted to cut hair and do makeup back home. A big career isn’t central to her ambition, and she’s excited to have a family one day. At the urging of her family, she gave IU a try. Now, Becca and Carly are constant reminders that she’s here for good.
All three plan to join sororities this year. None know what exactly that means for their friendship.
“These two just get me,” Ryann says of Becca and Carly. The friendship is new, but the girls say they have already been through so much. Like the boys screaming at the television, they are independent, alone, and out of the gaze of mom and dad. Of course, freedom and the stress of a new life brought tears and breakdowns for all three girls. Ryann’s came during the first week of classes. The notorious K201: The Computer in Business was simply too tough.
For Carly, the tipping point came on a jog at dawn during Welcome Week. She stopped for a moment near the Showalter Fountain. After her brother died unexpectedly a few years ago, a tear-filled journey awaited a devastated family.
For a girl who has lost too much, now is her chance to love. “I finally felt where I belonged,” Carly says. “It’s so unfair I get to be here and experience it all.” The anarchy of freshman life is maddening. All the while, it’s wonderful.
That warm, Bloomington summer morning, Carly stopped her run. She couldn’t go on. A swell of emotion overtook her. It’s feelings like these all freshmen likely have at one moment or another, even Gucker’s “tits!”-screaming, beer-burping boys. Whether freshmen like it or not, they’re alone and free, many for the first time. That morning the fountain water was dancing. Carly, knowing she belonged here, couldn’t help but cry.