Tomorrow morning is the beginning of sophomore suite selection. Rising sophomores, your housing options will pretty much be Schapiro, Wien, Nussbaum, Broadway, or the most notorious of sophomore dorms, sometimes known as Carman 2.0, occasionally called McBizzzzz, often referred to as a pit/dump/hellhole: McBain. The distant noises of sophomore selection are all singing the same note: not McBain, not McBain, not McBain. Two of our resident 562 W. 113th enthusiasts, Alexandra Avvocato and Alexandra (yes, another one) Eynon, are here to perform possibly the most important undergraduate task at Columbia: defending this dorm. 

McBizz for president

McBizz for president

As a rising sophomore, my group’s lottery number was in the low hundreds. We had our choice of the least desirable dorms on campus: a Schapiro walk-through could have been ours; those strange EC doubles were calling our name; there was even the option of some pseudo-suite-style Nussbaum configuration. Our friends expressed envy that we’d have the luck to avoid the dreaded corner of Broadway and 113th. But when we entered the cage, we zoomed past all the other dorm floor plans and clustered around McBain.

This year, I have a shared bathroom, our floor kitchen is essentially unusable apart from the microwave (and I’ve had my cookware used and not washed multiple times), and there are mice on our floor. The hall smells a bit like vomit most Sundays, and people have an emotional crisis and outside their rooms most evenings. Sometimes I have to use the guys’ shower because we have two shower stalls and more than two girls who, y’know, shower. And everything has the color scheme of a juvenile detention facility. I absolutely love living in McBain. I’m being sincere.

No space available to you as a sophomore is going to be what the rest of the world calls “nice.” Perhaps by Columbia Housing standards, a hardwood floor rather than ambiguously blue carpeting = palace, but who cares? All traditionally sophomore dorms are the same thing when all the pros and cons balance out; I know of no one whose psyche/social standing/general happiness level has been drastically altered by where they lived between the ages of 19 and 20. A single will be lovely — when you’re a senior. Living with other animals people who may not be all that likable or clean is something you should know how to deal with in a sane and sustainable way. If that involves threatening bodily harm in the kitchen…that’s actually been known to work.

And here’s the obligatory social life defense: yes, you’ll likely know most of the people on your floor; yes, there will be parties right in your hall and you can stumble back home three yards away; yes, there’s always someone to procrastinate with without having to put on your shoes. I could honestly care less, and don’t pretend that how social you are is at all affected by whether you live one block away or — gasp! — three blocks away. That’s not why I love McBain; I love McBain because I like the people I see in the building and even if I don’t know them, they’re likely to be generally friendly. Maybe that’s “social life” to you, but for me it’s just common human decency. If it doesn’t happen in the kitchen and bathroom, at least it happens on the personal level.

Rising sophomores: don’t be disappointed with McBain! Or if you’re going to be disappointed, be disappointed with Housing in general and embrace McBain as just a fellow evil, no more repugnant than a Wien walk-through double (although I may be contradicted: look out for our In Defense of Wien tomorrow). Really, I’ve had a lovely year. Better a slightly disgusting place you can feel at home at than a clean place that’s dead on the inside like Broadway.

And a second perspective:

McBain is a cesspool. It smells like a mixture of weed and burnt cooking oil and dusty carpeting and feet and sometimes vomit and occasionally cat litter and then there’s that one corner of your room that, as the result of an unsolvable mystery, always smells like hot dogs. There are strange marks and holes on the walls and there is graffiti in the lounge that says “fuck you” and no one noticed until second semester. In the girl’s bathroom, there are wiry beard-like hairs on the sink, but you haven’t seen any girls with beards. Sometimes you have to shower in the boy’s room since they have about three times more stalls than you do, and the things on those shower walls are still more bizarre and frightening (pro tip: don’t drop your loofah). Watching people walk around in bare feet makes you shudder, and  then they step on glass and their blood blends in seamlessly with the elaborately mottled blue carpet. Someone pees in the elevator pretty much every weekend because boys will be boys and many of them were raised by a species of territory-marking animal. You will try to cook because well at least there are floor kitchens but soon you will give up and just leave threatening notes for the people who used/broke/lost your stuff and proceed to subsist entirely off of Milano and Nussbaum for the rest of the year. You will do the elaborate dance of sexile with the first roommate that you picked yourself, to your joy and maybe later despair. If you live on the shaft, you’ll see the people across from you doing the elaborate dance of sexile and many other things besides. You will not be able to unsee these things.

This may be horrifying to you. It would probably be horrifying to your parents. But in this communal filth, you will be able to grow and flourish and learn about yourself in ways that you would never be able to in the relative cleanliness (godliness?) and isolation of some air-conditioned single. For instance, you may begin to find the reverberating sounds of EDM and/or metal and/or Taylor Swift kind of soothing as they mingle with the sweet symphony of garbage trucks below. And if not, at least you have the parties as consolation. You may not be able to get a lot of work done in your room, but you also won’t be able to walk around the building without running into someone who makes you smile, or who you kind of have a crush on, or who you slept with and now it’s awkward. Mostly, you’ll be able to be a nineteen or twenty-year-old kid who doesn’t need to worry about having nice things because you have your whole life to worry about that and all of the accompanying responsibilities and bullshit. Right now, you just get to live with your friends and bask in the youthful glow of degeneracy and occasional day drinking. McBain is the vaguely smelly, refreshingly lively, perfectly flawed place for you to fall down and pick yourself up and put a few holes in the walls (because, trust me, no one will notice anyway) and maybe to grow up accidentally a little bit along the way. It may be a cesspool, but it’s your cesspool—embrace it.