How to Make Your Living Space into a Community

Four easy ideas that bring neighbors together, something you’ll be glad you have when finals/moving season comes around.

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Four easy ideas that bring neighbors together, something you’ll be glad you have when finals/moving season comes around.

How to Make Your Living Space into a Community

Going the Extra Mile

Four easy ideas that bring neighbors together, something you’ll be glad you have when finals/moving season comes around.

By Shiloh McKinnon, Reed College


As the heat of summer fades and the grunts of students lifting too-heavy suitcases fill the air, the fact becomes impossible to ignore. College is about to start.

I’m going to be a Junior this year, so let me offer you some hard-won advice. Whether this is going to be your first year in a dorm or your third, you’re going to be far happier come finals if you live in a cohesive community.

How to Make Your Living Space into a CommunityFor one thing, people are a lot more willing to listen to polite noise complaints if they like you than if they don’t—and that goes double for cleaning up messes in common rooms or kitchens. Also, college gets stressful. It’s really nice to be able to come out of your room and hang out with people you actually like, especially if that doesn’t require making plans.

Sometimes you just gotta chill in a common room and talk to people. And talking to people, of course, is much easier if you’ve interacted with them before. Then maybe you can have a conversation that doesn’t start with the dreaded question “What are you majoring in?” or the only slightly more interesting, “Oh, what classes are you taking?”

The key to interesting conversations is a strong dorm community, and the key to a strong community is through dorm-wide events!

Sharing Movies

Everyone loves movies! Or maybe that’s just me, given I’m an entertainment reviewer. Oh well, I figure there’s gotta be some reason “Dinner and a movie” is the typical first date. Probably because movies are really cool and create great conversation topics, especially for interacting with people you don’t know very well.

With that in mind, I suggest movie watching to build dorm community. Movies are best watched on a television screen, which can be difficult to get for a dorm that doesn’t already have, but luckily even if you don’t have a TV, you have options.How to Make Your Living Space into a Community

Depending on how many people you expect to be at your event, it might be worth it to try and find a room with a projector. Providing cushions and snacks will also ensure a higher turnout for your event. From there, it’s just a question of picking a good movie!

The really cool thing about movie nights is that it allows people to share their interests. Whether your specialty is foreign action films, studio era Hollywood, 80s sci-fi or Chinese westerns, by showing those movies you either find the people who share your interests, or you get to introduce them to an entirely new genre. Either way, it’s pretty awesome, and tends to generate some good conversations afterwards.

Some movies that my dorm has had massive success with in the past are “Red Cliff,” a fantasy Chinese war movie, “Wild Zero,” a somewhat ridiculous Japanese zombie apocalypse movie, and “RENT,” an emotional musical that we turned into a bit of a sing-along.

TV Nights

Game of Thrones” starts back up during the school year. I have a friend whose housemate, who is coincidentally providing the TV for the house, required that everyone living in the house get caught up with “Game of Thrones” over the summer so they could watch the new episodes as a household.

How to Make Your Living Space into a CommunityThat’s a little more extreme than what I’m suggesting, but the principle is the same. My freshman year, a number of my friends bonded over semi-weekly “Orphan Black” marathons.

The great thing about TV, as opposed to movies, is that shows come out every week, which means that you can add some regularity to your event. Not to mention that it creates a weekly discussion topic!

Really, these nights should make it easier to make friends and talk to your dormmates, even outside of the event itself, which TV shows are sort of perfect for. Catching up on Netflix series tends to be an event that’s better for 3-5 people, but it can create a similar bonding experience. I’ve had a lot of success watching “RWBY” and “Young Justice” with dormmates in slightly smaller groups.

Dance Parties/Singalongs

My dorm is best known for our semi-frequent sing-alongs, pre-planned events where a single student with a ukulele provided the music while the rest of the dorm sang along. A number of us had computers or phones so we could pull up the lyrics to the songs, but halfway through the semester, those devices became completely unnecessary.

Our resident music maker stuck to seas shanties, which are easy to learn because of their repetitive nature, and a small number of bands that became emblematic of the dorm. Maybe it’s weird for the Mountain Goats’ “No Children” and Kimya Dawson’s “I Like Giants” to be the songs people associated with our dorm, but the fact that our dorm had songs associated with it did wonders for building a community.

The key to making these sing-alongs work was in the planning—sing-alongs were always announced beforehand so that people who didn’t live in the dorm could drop by and join in the fun.

The event became emblematic of our dorm, and it also invited peripheral community members into the space as well.

If a single person with an instrument is less your style, another similar idea is to organize dance parties; you get the same themes of people sharing their music and using their own experiences to help inspire another person’s fun, but it requires a little less talent for all parties. Also, if singer/songwriter songs aren’t your jam, screaming along to Taylor Swift and Fall Out Boy can be just as intense of a bonding experience—just make sure your neighbors are aware of what you’re planning.

Dorm Cookbook

Okay so this one isn’t actually an event, but it’ll definitely build community. The key to a person’s heart is though their stomach. That’s what my dad told me three years ago, when I was worried about making friends at college, at least. It turns out that, cliché as it sounds, it’s good advice.

If you bring a box of cookies to the common room and hand them out to people as you make polite conversation, those people will remember you as “that person that gave me cookies.” If nothing else, that could be the start of a great friendship.

The question then, is how to scale that up. It turns out that the Hall Advisor (HA) of my dorm this year has a plan, one that he said I could share with all of you.

His idea was to make a dorm cookbook.

The cookbook would not only collect easy college cooking tips (always put an egg in your instant ramen), but also assorted recipes that the residents want to share with each other.

I’ve seen this one in action, so I can assure you it works. Last year, during Yom Kippur, a couple of my Jewish dormmates decided that they wanted to do something for the holiday.

How to Make Your Living Space into a CommunityBecause of time and budget constraints, that “something” became “making latkes in the dorm kitchen.”

The original cook had just planned to make latkes, but she welcomed help as she worked, and soon enough she had a volunteer who was interested in sharing a family applesauce recipe. As those two cooked, a number of dormies drawn by the promise of free food hung out and watched them, and soon enough everyone began talking about their experiences cooking food, for Jewish holidays originally, but then the topic expanded, and the atheists and Catholic in the group shared their experiences too.

What started as a very religiously motivated activity quickly became a learning and sharing experience, and remains one of my favorite moments I had with my dormmates last year. I have no doubt that a cookbook that shares family recipes could inspire similar conversations.

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