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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Univ. should invest more in insulating residence halls

Published: October 16, 2014
Section: Opinions

I don’t want to tell people to be quieter; I really don’t. It’s not like the people in the room next door are having a screaming match at 3 a.m. or blasting their music at maximum volume or rhythmically pounding on the wall between our rooms. In fact, what disturbs me is when they talk at a normal decibel level or get out of bed or turn over. The amount of insulation between rooms in most first-year dorms is so low that even these everyday tasks sound perfectly crisp through the walls and are easily heard, a situation that must be rectified.

Beyond the obvious annoyance factor involved of being able to hear every small facet of my floormates’ lives, there are serious negative consequences to having a total lack of privacy when starting college. The knowledge that someone might hear the entirety of my phone calls, arguments or sexual activity dramatically increases the amount of self-awareness and insecurity I feel in these situations. The possibility that someone could be listening, purposefully or not, to everything I do is frightening. For instance, if I ever need to call the health center or BEMCO for someone else’s health crisis (or my own), I shouldn’t also have to worry about being quiet enough to prevent someone from overhearing. All it does is distract from my ability to actually handle the crisis I’m currently in.

Similarly, the knowledge we unwillingly gain about others on our floor through the walls is also disturbing. No one needs to know about other people’s sexual prowess or lack thereof, nor should they want to know.

Beyond the fact that this information can weaken new and old relationships alike, it creates unnecessary power dynamics between floormates. No one should know deep secrets about someone else without their permission, because it gives a higher level of power to one party of the relationship. Since these supposedly private conversations can become accidentally public much too often, sometimes intimate information is unfortunately shared to those that do not deserve it, ultimately creating awkwardness in an otherwise successful relationship. Besides, once personal information becomes public, it far too often spreads like wildfire. People like to gossip, and especially when someone overhears something particularly juicy, the urge can be unavoidable. We shouldn’t have to rely on people’s abilities to resist gossip, but instead limit their ability to overhear this type of information.

So how does the university go about resolving the unfortunate lack of soundproofing in our older quads? The answer is actually rather easy and inexpensive. Interestingly enough, the current design of most buildings do include a number of soundproofing mechanisms. The floors and ceilings in most rooms were designed to prevent noise transfers, and it is difficult to hear conversations through the brick walls. In truth, the window area is normally the culprit in noise transfer in our residence halls. Because most windows are so large relative to the size of the room, there is much less insulation in the area around the windows and it is possible to hear any noise in an adjoining room through these uninsulated areas. I’d also venture a guess that having such thin walls around the windows doesn’t benefit energy efficiency in heating either.

The best way to resolve the problem, then, is to design rooms that include more insulation and soundproofing around the windows, or to replace the windows entirely. It will certainly cost the university some money, but because no structural changes are necessary it won’t be as expensive as it could have been to massively remodel the buildings, forcing students to relocate for a long period of time.

In addition, replacing the windows in our oldest residence halls will also give the university a great chance to address energy efficiency in these buildings, to help the university achieve its carbon reduction goals. By next year, the university is obligated to drop its emissions 15 percent from 2008 levels, and one of the largest energy users on campus is housing. In turn, one of the largest energy expenditures in our housing system is heating, especially in our older, less-efficient residence halls. Improving the efficiency of these buildings will thus remove a massive energy waste on campus, all while also directly improving students’ quality of life.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to address soundproofing of our residence halls, so let’s work together to get it done. We can save energy, save friendships and possibly even save someone the humiliation of continuous gossip. Most importantly, however, you could save me from having to hear my floormates’ sexual adventures.