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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Tales from the Crypt: Shapiro Hall

Published: January 27, 2012
Section: Opinions

When my fellow Brandeisians ask me where I live on campus, my answer of Shapiro Hall usually results in a sympathetic “I am so sorry.” Known as a “character-building dorm” by many of its former inhabitants, Shapiro Hall is certainly the decaying cornerstone of Brandeis University. How can one not develop character in an environment that demands such a high degree of tolerance? This is not even referring to the usual gripes of its older, “asylum-esque” aesthetics or the mice that also populate the building—there are problems that are often even worse than that.

Once upon a weekend, somebody threw up in the hallway of Shapiro 1B. Although not that uncommon for a group of college students, the true disgusting nature of this event came later, with the realization that I had coexisted with this digestive excretion for nearly four days. Even after a plea to the custodial staff, residents had to attempt to avoid the mess until something was done. To this day, the two-foot-wide spot of former wretchedness remains, which serves as a reminder of Shapiro’s history of uncleanliness.

The fact that the renovations for Shapiro Hall have been neglected for so long is quite unfortunate, especially for those who end up living there. Several fellow residents say that their older family members and friends also lived in Shapiro, going so far as to say that it has always been low in quality. Part of me thinks everyday how the walls, carpets and bathrooms have experienced a full history of use by equally disgruntled residents. At this point, no matter how dilligently the cleaning staff works, they cannot wash away the deeply embedded filth of old age.

From my experience, Shapiro seems to be one of the most active dorms on campus. Countless times I have been kicked out of our only hall lounge by clubs that have rented out the space. Now I understand that space can be limited on such an active college campus, but why must my place of residence be usurped by arbitrary students who will end up leaving the space worse-off and will lack incentive to maintain that space? Anybody who has taken Introduction to Economics knows that this is a classic example of the Tragedy of the Commons. Furthermore, Shapiro houses a study room in the basement for Jewish students to utilize the extensive collection of Hebrew texts, but also many communal events are held there. This adds to the amount of strangers constantly trafficking through Shapiro.

One of the key problems in Shapiro is the water temperature that fluctuates to the extremes. Residents definitely go through a ritual burning and cooling process with no water pressure of which to speak. I have lost count of how many times I have sustained actual burns from the changing water temperatures. When I emerge from the shower most days, it looks as if I have been dipped into acid, but this has simply become a way of life for most of us.

Despite everything, the only thing keeping me from living on my friend’s air mattress is the group of people in my building. We all have a locked-in community of fellow survivors of this dorm, who also happen to be some of the most lively people on this campus. If it were not for our collective outlook and demeanor, our first-year experience would be severely lacking in Shapiro Hall. I suppose we all wish we were guaranteed a good number in the upcoming housing lottery as compensation for the struggles that we have endured. Yet, we all are assuming and hoping that no other housing option on campus is as bad as Shapiro Hall.