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Suite Style or Community Bathrooms?: Residence Halls at MSU

Welcome back to school, Spartans!

It goes without saying that one of the most important parts of the college experience is living on campus. Last year, Michigan State announced students would be required to live on campus for two years. There are over two dozen residence halls on our beautiful campus, which are split into five neighborhoods. This means that there is plenty of time and plenty of options for all students! The start of the fall semester is getting close, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s housing is all set. Consider these points when selecting a room.

What kind of residence hall works for you? Each neighborhood has a different vibe, and there are many living-learning communities, and what kind of bathroom do you want to have? 

I’ve lived in both a community-style (one large bathroom for the whole floor) and a suite-style (one bathroom between and only accessible by two rooms), and choosing which one you want may seem like a non-issue, but there are pros and cons on each side. However, keep in mind that my community experience in Emmons Hall won’t be universal, and neither will my suite-style experience in East Wilson Hall. I lived in East Wilson during the Fall 2020-Spring 2021 year, and because of the pandemic lived in the whole suite by myself, so some of the thoughts about suite-style living are taken from my older sister Alison, who lived in one for three years. 

Cleaning

Before I had experienced any type of dorm living, I was astonished by my high school friends’ desire to live in a community-style hall, thinking to myself: is cleaning your own bathroom really that bad? I mean, I’ve done it at home for years. Two years later, reviews are mixed. Last year when I lived in Emmons, I had an extremely packed schedule, and having just one less thing to worry about was a relief. The bathroom is always clean for you. Honestly, it felt like a luxury. It’s cleaned once a day, and the facility's employee who cleaned my floor’s bathroom was an amazing woman who was super kind and would write fun or inspirational things on the bathroom’s whiteboard. One inconvenience is that the bathroom will be closed for about a half-hour daily for cleaning and will be unusable during that time and you need to go to another floor for the bathroom (all floors have the same key). Without a bit of planning, it made me late getting out the door to my morning classes more times than I’d like. 

On the other hand, cleaning my suite wasn’t bad at all. It’s a small bathroom, it’s not hard. However, as I mentioned above, I was there alone and only subject to my cleaning habits. You have no control over your suitemates' cleaning habits. At the risk of sounding too negative, you risk sharing a bathroom with someone who never cleans, makes excuses not to, and you may find yourself doing the bulk of the work. While we weren’t in a suite last year, I know getting my last roommate to clean a bathroom would be like pulling teeth, given the constant conflict about cleaning just our room and me picking up most of the cleaning. But, if it works out, you may be splitting the cleaning of a small bathroom with three other people, which isn’t too bad. 

Convenience 

Picture it, it’s the middle of the night, and you have to pee. Do you fumble around for your glasses, your keys, and your shoes to wander around the blindingly bright hallway to the community bathroom? Or do you walk a few feet to the unlocked bathroom that’s just right there in your suite? Still, community bathrooms are always clean, and always have a toilet or a shower available for you, so aside from dealing with my poor eyesight, it's not terrible. 

Picture it, you’ve been at your desk studying for hours, and the full water bottle and coffee you’ve consumed have gone straight to your bladder. But, your suitemate is absolutely hogging the bathroom. Deep condition, exfoliation, everything. Where do you go? A community bathroom is always there for you. Either way, a suite bathroom was just a bit more convenient for my taste because of its proximity. 

The Room

While we may attribute this more to the building layout than the bathroom design, I’m pretty sure my room in Emmons was bigger than my room in East Wilson. The lack of an extra doorway provides more space and therefore, more storage, the most valuable thing in a tiny dorm room. The bigger and less cut-up space in my Emmons room allowed for a lot more flexibility in room layout and a lot more options to make the furniture and the space work for you. In my opinion, there were fewer options to orient my East Wilson room. Organization and space are everything. 

On the other hand, suites have more storage for bathroom stuff in particular. Your stuff can have a more permanent home; it’s more like a regular bathroom at home. That's what I liked most about the suite. Storage for things like towels, toothpaste, or skincare can be tricky without the extra space that towel bars, medicine cabinets (not in every suite), or space in the bathroom for storage that rolling carts or bins can provide. Also, one thing I didn’t think of until I moved in was dishes. It was a lot easier for me to take dishes to my suite bathroom instead of down the hall to a dishes sink that was shared with dozens of other people. I actively avoided reusable dishes and didn’t even bring my coffee mugs to Emmons, as dishes were way easier in my old suite. Having my own bathroom made the whole space feel a bit more personal and more home-y. 

People

Despite how many people share one community bathroom, I never experienced any traffic of any kind. All the facilities were always available. The sharing doesn’t necessarily create a bonding experience between floormates, but it does teach accountability and a bit of teamwork. Our maintenance worker or a girl in the GroupMe would point out an issue they’re noticing (for example, my floor last year had an issue with putting room trash and food wrappers in the bathroom trash can and an issue with girls leaving clumps of hair in the shower), and people would check their actions and we would altogether make sure our shared bathroom was the best it could be. However, sharing a bathroom with dozens of people isn’t all camaraderie. Some of your floormates will just be oblivious, or not care enough to respect people’s complaints. And bathrooms are not immune to weekend or game day celebrations and vandalism. 

A suite bathroom is usually only shared between four people, so there’s a lot less conflict. However, you’re in a lot closer quarters with a lot more people. If you don’t have a conflict with your roommate, you know someone who does. Sharing a space with someone is a breeding ground for conflict, and you’re sharing a small space with even more people than just a roommate. Still, it’s a shared space with 3-4 people instead of a whole floor, so it can be a little better for communication. 

Privacy

One of the things that truly terrified me about living in a community-style hall was that I was absolutely traumatized by that one scene in the 2012 iconic college classic Pitch Perfect. For my sophomore year, when I had no choice but to live in Emmons, I was terrified by the utter lack of privacy. It turns out the movies lied to me! My community bathroom was amazing and was equipped with locking doors on the shower stalls and a bench to put my things on. People are just going to the bathroom to do bathroom things. Minding their business. You may get a hello from a friend as you’re coming and going, but no one’s going to force you to audition for the Barden Bellas in your floor bathroom. I did get a little flare-up of my social anxiety at the thought of having other people in the room as I brushed my teeth or washed my face, but it soon faded into the day-to-day of the semester. 

Overall, you have more privacy in a suite because there are fewer people to share the space with. Some days, not having any personal space can get annoying. Despite the great cleanliness and the more-than-expected privacy, I missed the suite, and I missed the definition of my own space. 

In the end, it’s all about what works for you. There’s a reason that MSU has so many options! There’s no way I can make a verdict, and I know all kinds of people with all different experiences. When I first started at MSU, I never thought I would ever live in a hall with a community bathroom. When the only thing available for my second year was Emmons, I tried for months to get out of it and was afraid of how different it would be. And it ended up being totally not a big deal. I’m glad I got to experience both because both were great in their own way! If you get stressed about what type of room you’re in, remember both have their pros and cons, and both can help you with a full and amazing on-campus experience. 

Madison Reinhold is a junior majoring in journalism at MSU, with minors in history and women's & gender studies. When she isn't studying, she spends her time pursuing her own creative writing, keeping up on current events, and falling down endless Wikipedia rabbit holes.
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