A Room of One's Own: Frances Perkins Scholars Find Their Niche in Residence Halls withYounger Students

From house to home When she became a Frances Perkins Scholar, Rita Swift rented out her three-bedroom house, reduced her belongings to absolute necessities, and became one of some twenty FPs living in a residence hall with traditional-aged students. Here Swift (second from right) visits with fellow Brigham Hall residents (from left) Ay Hieng Phu '98, Jermar Inman FP '98, and Lorraine Previe FP.

Adjusting to the communal nature of dormitory life can be a challenge even for traditional-aged students, so imagine what it's like for the forty Frances Perkins Scholars who call Mount Holyoke home. Without fanfare, these women make a move that many people their age would consider unimaginable: exchanging their homes for a small single dormitory room. FPs often make this transition after years of living in their own homes. Many are (or have been) married or involved in a long-term relationship. They may even have children who are the same age as their dormmates. How does it feel to be over forty, sleeping in a single bed, and sharing a bathroom with thirty people?

Jermar Inman, Rita Swift, and Lorraine Previe are among the twenty or so FPs who have not only chosen to live on campus, but have also elected to live in a dorm with traditional-aged students. While Pearsons Annex and the top floor of Dickinson House are reserved for FPs, Brigham, Abbey, and Buckland Halls house students of all ages. "I wanted to be a part of the heartbeat and pulse of the school," remarked first-year student Rita Swift when asked why she chose to live in Brigham. "I was used to teenagers [she has two children], and it seemed normal to be around them." Remarkably, Swift's biggest adjustment has been learning to overcome her uneasiness about storing things under the bed (a childhood no-no). She views her room as a temporary, utilitarian home and has not spent much time decorating. "If I put up curtains, I would have to worry that they were getting dirty," she said. "I am here to learn, and I consider it a privilege to be able to concentrate on my studies."

For ten years, Jermar Inman '98 lived in a luxurious 4,000-square-foot house, until she and her husband divorced. Today, she is thrilled to call her "cozy" room in Brigham home. Unlike Swift, Inman has put down roots and decorated her room with lace curtains, carpet, and ruffled pillows. She has made friends of all ages in the dorm and enjoys socializing. Although she goes back to her Florida house, companion of eight years, and adult children about every six weeks, Inman is always anxious to return to her "own personal space" at Mount Holyoke.

First-year student Lorraine Previe considers living in Brigham "part of the adventure" she undertook when she came here. Her husband and daughter keep things running smoothly at home, while Previe focuses on her studies and enjoys the "cohesive atmosphere" she has found in her hall. Brigham's proximity to the library and academic buildings are also big pluses for her.

By living on campus, these women have given up some creature comforts, but they have gained a sense of community that they value more. All three commented that their young dormmates have been considerate and eager to accept them. When FPs move into dorms, be it ever so humble, there is a place like home.