I am a proud Butt-Head. Out of the Wesleyan context, this statement could seem a little weird. However, in Excavating America with Professor Sarah Croucher, I’ve learned that a building can say a lot about the time in which it was built. A closer examination of the dormitories shows how Wesleyan’s profound and progressive past inspired the design of campus buildings.
Take the Butterfield Colleges, for example. Colloquially deemed “The Butts,” the Butterfield Colleges were originally named the “Lawn Avenue Dormitories” when ground was broken in 1964. However, the opening of a new dorm in a small liberal arts college wasn’t the only significant thing happening in 1964. President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, abolishing racial segregation in the United States, the United States stationed 21,000 troops in Vietnam, and the Catholic Church had officially condemned female oral contraceptives.
There was much controversy in the world of American academia as to what a college student’s role was in the midst of great social change and to what degree the static constructs of traditional higher education prepared this new generation to live in a dynamic world. Victor L. Butterfield, Wesleyan’s president at the time, progressively thought that a student should be well-versed in current issues and taught in an interdisciplinary manner. That belief was his motivation for launching his historic “College Plan” in 1959, which integrated new programs of study, the College of Letters and the College of Social Studies, into Wesleyan. When the “Lawn Avenue Dormitories” were dedicated to Butterfield on September 18th, 1971, he summarized Wesleyan’s radical attitude at the ceremony.
“Whatever else Wesleyan may or may not be today, she is alive, very much alive with moral, social and intellectual concern,” he said. The construction of the dormitories, too, was of social and intellectual concern.
For those select few of you who have not had the pleasure of spending time in the Butts, or are too lazy to walk two minutes downhill from Fauver, I can explain the construction. The complex is made up of three different buildings, all connected by underground tunnels. The hallways are narrow, and the buildings all surround a common courtyard affectionately named “The Butthole.” There are floor-length windows in the larger rooms, and deep-rooted trees scattered throughout the complex.
Professor Croucher has taught me that architecture is never an accident.
The architecture firm of Brown, Lawford, and Forbes designed the sprawling complex of the Butterfield Colleges so that no trees would be disturbed by the construction. The windows (one of which I enjoy in Butt B) were designed for to maximize natural light. Lastly, although not confirmed by my dig through the Special Archives and Collections, the confusing hallways of the complex may have been designed to be “riot-proof” in order to withstand protests by Wesleyan students. Not only did the student body influence the construction of the dorm, but the construction also continues to impact how students live today.
The archaeological notion of “active material” states that spaces are conducive to certain behaviors because of the physical limitations of their structure. The “riot-proofed” hallways encourage students to congregate in large numbers (read: party) in the rooms. The floor-length windows alleviate the need for artificial light, curbing natural resource use. The circular courtyard, which was crafted to protect the trees that existed before Wesleyan did, is the perfect location for activities such as Buttstock. Even the tunnels, which (if you’re lucky) provide inter-Butt transport and access to the laundry room for all of its inhabitants, are probably the only places on campus where graffiti is encouraged. I believe that’s the spirit that Victor L. Butterfield had in mind for Wesleyan.
When I moved into the Butts in August and started to play sweaty Tetris with the furniture in my room, I didn’t think the dorm that everyone on the WesAdmits 2015 Facebook group dreaded would be a social hub. To my surprise, the Butts ended up being the perfect place for a Frisbee catch in the butthole, a Mario Kart tournament in the lounge, or a pre-Psi U party to the tune of “Stacy’s Mom” in my room.
If Clark and Fauver are your annoying athlete cousins, WestCo is your intellectually pretentious, hipster older brother, and the Nics is your boring little sister, the Butts can be your badass uncle your parents almost don’t invite to Thanksgiving. You can say what you want about ResLife, Wesleyan family, but you ain’t got shit on the Butts.