I’ve been asking myself that question a lot recently. I’m a junior living in the dorms. That doesn’t make sense. At least that’s what people tell me.
At the University of Wisconsin – Madison, it’s widely understood that once you finish your freshman year in the dorms, you’re out of there. In fact, freshmen start signing leases for apartments within a month or two of arriving on campus. Dorms are a rite of passage for freshmen, but generally students don’t choose to live in them for a second, and certainly not a third, year.
So why am I living in the dorms for my third year – and not just any dorm, but Witte Hall, a notoriously rowdy freshmen dorm?
The story actually starts my freshman year when I was placed in Witte. During my first night, I experienced some culture shock. I thought I had seen enough college-related movies to know what to expect when I got to my dorm. But that night the typical “college students gone crazy” scene was actually happening all around me.
I sat on my bed listening to girls run up and down the hallway as they swapped miniskirts, compared fake IDs, and rated the attractiveness of the guys who lived down the hall. Later as I tried to fall asleep, the girls returned after going out for a few hours. This time they stumbled down the hallway.
Is this the only way to make friends in college? I wondered. But what if I don’t want to go out drinking?
That night I filled out some information on UW-Madison’s InterVarsity website, asking them to get in touch with me. The next day, I got a call from a girl named Amy who, after grabbing a meal with me at the cafeteria, introduced me to the 11 other InterVarsity students on her floor. They lived in my dorm. And they were all upperclassmen.
The friends I made that year in Witte are what drew me into the chapter. The fact that they were serious about following Jesus made a big impression on me. I knew I wanted what they had. I grew up a Christian, but it wasn’t until I had a community of believers who encouraged me and led by example that I started getting serious about my faith.
And that’s why I am living the dorms again as a junior. I want to see freshmen who are already believers experience authentic Christian community and non-believers meet Jesus for the first time. I want to see the girls like the ones I lived with my freshman year hear the message that their value doesn’t come from their miniskirts, drinking, or the guys down the hall. By loving them and living out our faith, our community can instead point them toward the God who gives them value.
The 27 of us who have committed to living in the dorms this year have high hopes for what will happen through our dorm ministry. But we recognize it’s not always easy. For one, we have to continually confront the question: So why are you living in the dorms again? I’m already anticipating that with each year spent in the dorms, answering that question only gets more awkward. But I can handle that. I’m trusting that this year the Lord will use it as an entry way into some great conversation.
Okay, and I’ll admit, living in the dorms is not that comfortable either. I love having my own bathroom, not having to wear shower shoes, and knowing who used the kitchen before I cook there. Then again, there are also missionaries living in third world countries without access to indoor plumbing or running water – much less microwave ovens – for the sake of the gospel. I find it inconvenient walking down the hall to get water for my rice maker. I think I’ll be able to manage.
The dorms are our mission field. And I’ve come to discover that, in our mission field, sharing a kitchen space and starting up conversations in the bathroom create a unique opportunity to befriend and gain the trust of new students, which then opens the door to the gospel.
So, yes, I am a junior living in a freshmen dorm. But when I consider how God can use me there, things like shower shoes, messy kitchens, and potentially awkward conversations just don’t really matter.
Lauren Anderson is an InterVarsity student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison studying Journalism and Mass Communication.