By SALLY JARZAB
Published November 15, 2023
With a residential population nearly 7,000 strong, it’s hard to imagine UB without the students who call it home.
But residence halls didn’t become a thing at UB until 1953, more than a century after its founding. That’s when Schoellkopf, MacDonald and Cooke — later renamed Pritchard — halls were opened to a student body eager for the conveniences of on-campus housing.
In those early years, residential life looked a little different. Men and women stayed in separate buildings. Room and board cost just $325 per semester and included full laundry service. The fun side of college life was encouraged, but rules were extensive. The residents of MacDonald, for instance, had compulsory dorm meetings, strict nightly curfews and restrictions on what they could wear and when. According to a handbook from the time, “dungarees” were permissible on Saturdays but not Sundays. The guide went on to order: “Candy and cigarettes are the ONLY refreshments allowed in the main lounge.”
While times — and our ideas of healthy refreshments — have changed, the vision that brought about campus living is right in line with today’s reality. Students and officials alike understood then that building a strong campus community would depend on people being on that campus — not only during class time, but also for all the meaningful moments that take place outside of it.
“The residences will become a nucleus of student activities,” then Chancellor T. Raymond McConnell said at the dedication ceremony. “Students will gain invaluable experience in human values and relations by living in them, and they will learn the art of gracious living.”
The Buffalonian yearbook declared: “Dormitory life on the University, tagged as an ‘experiment in community living,’ has proved a successful endeavor toward the development of a more closely knit campus.” Predicted The Spectrum student newspaper in the fall of 1953: “… in the future a feeling of greater campus unity and college spirit will ultimately be the outcome.”
And today? That True Blue spirit is on display from South Campus to South Lake and everywhere in between.
Madison Nitsche, a junior neuroscience major with sights set on med school, has lived on campus for her entire UB career, despite the fact that her family home is close by.
Nitsche says she knew it would make a difference in her college experience. To convince her parents it would be worth the investment, she applied to Leadership House, a learning-living community for first-year students in Governors Complex.
The leadership lessons stuck, and now Nitsche serves on the executive board of the Residence Hall Association, as vice president of engagement. The RHA is the student-run governing body that represents students who reside on campus, building community, providing advocacy, creating personal development opportunities, and infusing some fun into the day-to-day living.
“I love doing work specifically for people who live on campus because I know from experience how much it can impact someone,” Nitsche says. “Even though I have a home to go to that’s 15 minutes away, a lot of students don’t. So we had programming throughout this past fall break to make sure they weren’t just sitting in their rooms.”
One event, Not Your Grandma’s Bingo, drew attendees out not just to play a few rounds but to see their RHA reps dressed up as old folks.
Nitsche lives in an apartment in Flint Village now after staying in Greiner as a sophomore, but she says she still counts Governors as her favorite.
“I know, it’s such a hot take,” she laughs. But for her, it was the unique sense of community that made it special. “As first-years, we were all a little unsure, just starting out, but we grouped together, and now those are great shared experiences we can all look back on. There’s something really beautiful in that.”
Facilitating such experiences is at the core of Meegan Hunt’s role as Residential Life’s interim director.
Hunt has worked in Campus Living for 23 years, and lived on campus for six as a residence hall director and then a complex director in the apartments.
She knows well what on-campus housing can provide for students. At the most basic level, it creates more opportunities to build connections and camaraderie, whether it’s meeting up for morning coffee with friends or joining late-night get-togethers like the “’90s block party” that took place earlier this semester.
But, Hunt emphasizes, it’s more than fun and games.
“We actually help students persist and succeed through to graduation. We’re able to connect students to resources that help them study better, or navigate mental health challenges, or work through a conflict.”
In these post-pandemic years, there’s less focus on repeating the same large-scale events of years past, and more attention on smaller group activities and even one-on-one meetings. The goal is to make sure students feel they’re in an accepting community where they belong.
“When I think about my job, it’s safety first, and then success, and then it gets down to that fun experience,” she says. “We work to make sure that everyone’s connected, referred and resourced, but then it’s like, we also want you to come out and watch movies and have ice cream.”
It’s that kind of support system that Nitsche says she’ll miss most about living on campus.
“When I first came here, I thought, UB is such a big school; no one is going to know my name. But through campus living, people know who I am,” Nitsche says. “Knowing that I have people in my corner, and in so many different corners, to help me do the things I want to do — that’s just invaluable. I feel that in my heart.”
“For many, college was the most nostalgic time in our respective lives,” says alumnus Durval Morgan, who has fond memories of his days living on both the North and South campuses in the early 2000s while earning his undergraduate and then graduate degrees.
A few years ago, Morgan decided to channel that nostalgia into something not only tangible, but wearable. He created a line of apparel that pays homage to UB residence halls and villages.
Response to the line, branded SINCE1846 in a nod to UB’s founding year, has been enthusiastic. The self-proclaimed “super proud alum” who serves as the UB NYC alumni regional leader wants to inspire other alumni to show their love for the university. It doesn’t have to fade over time.
“I attribute much of my growth to living on campus in the UB residence halls,” he says. “Those memories mean so much to me.”