I’ve been searching for the definition of “home” for a long time. There is, of course, the surface-level definition, which poses “home” as synonymous to “house.” It simply classifies a home as a permanent place of dwelling and removes any emotional connotation. The adjective “homey” implies warmth, comfort, and an intrinsic sense of familiarity. Yet, describing a home as homey is repetitive—so what specific characteristics attach us to our living spaces? How does a place provoke intrinsic feelings of comfort, familiarity, and warmth?
For me, the most quintessential “home” space is the kitchen. This is a place of nourishment, both physical and emotional—of socialized caring. Growing up, the kitchen was where my dad made his famous French toast on Saturday mornings. It’s where I learned the unwritten recipe for chicken cutlets by sheer repetition. It’s the place of girl talk with my sister over midnight brownies. It’s the center for family holidays—the dinner that is inevitably served a few hours later than anticipated is far less important than the day of cooking together that precedes it. Spaces like this, where care and unity are characterized by every action that transpires, are integral to constructing a space labeled “home.”
I want to be able to point to a space like this at Columbia, a space that represents the moments and memories of my undergraduate career. When I came to college, even the idea of a meal plan stressed me out. Food was once a physical representation of family, but here it became a simple exchange. I became hyper-aware that dining halls are not like the kitchens I grew up in, but they are, perhaps, one of the most inclusive spaces on campus. Everyone has to eat, which provides the inarguable opportunity for daily communal action. This communal action should regularly occur across campus—but both the lack of space and the exorbitant price of a meal plan inhibits the communality that should occur.
Once you’re actually in a dining hall, finding a table is a competitive venture. The more people joining you, the more difficult the task becomes. Swarms of diners congest Ferris and John Jay during rush hours. Diana, Hewitt, and JJ’s simply lack tables with the capacity for larger groups. In these way, and many others, the very architecture of Columbia prohibits familial togetherness. Instead of promoting a culture of gathering the community in one of the few environments on campus where this is expected, there is simply not enough space for the student body to congregate.
This sense of collective vagrancy is relieved on days like last Friday, when students were able to gather outside in the warm weather. We eat takeout on Low Steps. We read in the grass together. When we have the space to congregate as a community, we are innately drawn together into a collective space. This suggests to me that a home is characterized by noncompetitive occupation, in which each member is given the necessary room to exist. No individual is pushed out. No member of the community is made uncomfortable by the physical presence of another. Yet this sense of home should not just exist weather-permitting. This basic tenant is violated often and without consideration on this campus.
On campus, there’s an individualism that permeates the feeling of every available indoor space. Physical occupation is a consistent priority for students. Individuals hoard seats in Butler during finals week simply because the space will be overtaken if it is abandoned. There is a culture of annexation here. There is no freedom to coexist with each other when the physical space isn’t available.
Furthermore, spaces of group occupation are an even rarer commodity. It is ridiculously difficult to book a group study room, for instance, because there are so few. Only one room in Butler permits talking. In Lerner, an absurd shortage of seating and gathering space prevents groups from coming together and studying there. This poor use of space can impede our ability to come together, thereby perpetuating the individualism and competition that characterizes the University as a whole.
It also often is counterproductive. The best ideas are rooted in collaboration. This campus preaches the importance of discourse, yet doesn’t provide adequate space for this discourse to spontaneously occur. The isolation, nonexistent school spirit, and individualistic academia that describe this campus are rooted in this lack of sufficient shared space. Without the option of unplanned collaboration, how can we become sociable? Without a space to become united, how can we express our enthusiasm for community? Without open forums for scholastic discussion, does our campus really experience the benefits of gathering?
This campus is our residence for the better part of four years. While this time is an important transition, the space in which it happens should not simply feel transitory. It is our duty to make it homey. In the grand scheme, this means demanding and creating accessible, private spaces for academic and recreational collaboration. In the short term, this means identifying current spaces that feel comfortable, warm, and familiar, and sharing them with each other. We have to deny individualism for the sake of creating a familial feel to our place of dwelling. In essence, we have a house, but our task is building a home.
Natalia Queenan is extremely grateful that there’s a kitchen in her suite next semester. For her, this column has been warm, comfortable, and familiar all semester. She would love to hear where on campus you feel most at home. Miss Interpretations ran alternate Wednesdays.
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