The first women’s residence hall at St. Thomas has been converted into a men’s hall.
Murray Hall opened as a female dorm in 1977, the same year St. Thomas began admitting women. This year’s incoming freshman class, which is made up of 56 percent men and 44 percent women, has made the housing situation more complicated.
“We usually try to get a 50-50 ratio for gender balance,” said director of Residence Life Aaron Macke. “But as it sits right now, we have more men than women in this first-year class. In order to provide housing for the men, we had to look at some other options. The most logical option for this kind of accommodation was Murray Hall.”
The newly converted hall is now home to 109 first-year men.
“If we had kept women in the hall, we would have opened with all sorts of vacancies,” Macke said. “We wouldn’t have had enough women in the first-year class to fill them all, and we would have been telling a whole bunch of men, ‘We’re sorry, but we don’t have enough beds for you on campus.’”
If the university had not been able to free up space for the incoming men, students without housing may have chosen to attend other schools, Macke said. This would have prevented St. Thomas from hitting its target number for the freshman class size.
“We were thinking about splitting the floors, but that would have been very difficult logistically with the whole male-female thing,” Macke said. “So we decided to go with the all-male hall.”
Eight female students who lived in the hall last year had signed up to live in it again this year. These students were assigned to other dorms on campus where Residence Life helped them find spots that allowed the roommates to stay together. Two resident advisers and the operations manager who were originally hired to work in the women’s hall have also been reassigned to other dorms.
Sophomore Jenny Cielinski was a resident adviser in Murray Hall last year, and she was going to be a resident adviser in the hall this year as well. Instead, she is now a resident adviser in Flynn Hall.
“It’s understandable why they made the change,” Cielinski said.“But I’m really going to miss Murray. I loved the community in the hall, and it’s a little sad because it was the first all-women residence hall and it had so many traditions. But I’m sure the guys will like their new hall.”
There have been some adjustments to make the hall more masculine, said senior Adam Holmberg, the new Murray Hall operations manager.
“We changed the mascot from a rubber ducky to a dragon,” he said. “We took the flower pictures down and put up bulletin boards with cars and skylines. We’re also changing the colors from pinks to blues, greens and blacks, although the Murray lounge is still a paisley purple.”
Senior Heath May, one of Murray Hall’s two resident advisers, said one of the most exciting parts about the switch is having the chance to develop a new community with new traditions.
“We’re at the forefront of a brand new community,” he said. “We’ll let the residents have input on what they want Murray traditions to be.”
One of the first Murray events, which could become an annual tradition, is the all-hall barbecue on Friday. Holmberg and May said they are also making plans to hold in-hall and between-hall sports competitions.
The Murray men will live four to a room in the quad rooms and three to a room in the triple rooms, just like the women did. This means the men will have their own bathrooms, which makes Holmberg and May slightly nervous.
“I was talking with Dani Carroll, Murray’s operations manager from last year, and we agreed that with men in the hall there would be fewer roommate conflicts and more hygiene issues,” Holmberg said. “The combined smell of four men’s clothes is not a pleasant thought, and they’ll also have to clean their own bathrooms. We’re going to make cleaning schedules, and we’re considering giving out prizes for cleanliness.”
Other than the potential cleanliness issues, Holmberg and May aren’t anticipating any problems. They said the residents already love their new dorm.
“They’re close to the cafeteria, they have air conditioning and they have the whole campus at their fingertips,” May said. “And the best part is the small, close-knit community feel.”
Macke said the switch will last for the entire 2009-2010 school year but might not continue after that if gender ratios return to normal by the start of the 2010-2011 school year.
Katie Broadwell can be reached at email@example.com.