In less than two weeks, I will move out of the place that has been my home for the past three semesters: Writer’s Block, the residence hall and program house hybrid of my dreams. Sometimes known as 156 High St. or “the dorm above Swings” and affectionately deemed “the Block” by its inhabitants, Writer’s Block is a four-story brick and concrete building dotted with balconies. It resembles a modern fortress.
On the inside, it’s not much prettier, filled with glossy University-sanctioned couches, scratchy multicolored carpeting, and fluorescent lighting. Still, with the decorations that residents have added, its writing-themed programming, and the friendly hallway conversations between neighbors, the Block radiates a unique warmth—one that has made me beyond proud to call it my home for two years in a row.
Moving onto campus halfway through my first year of college and in the middle of a pandemic was terrifying. I was scared that everybody would already have found their friends and I would be left to fend for myself socially. Instead, I moved into a dorm where a group of first years walked to dinner together each night, where the residents all knew each other, and where I’d run into the same couple of people each night while brushing my teeth.
During our initial two-week quarantine my first semester on campus in Spring 2021, first-years in the Block found creative ways to connect: two lovely residents (Fana Schoen ’24 and Sara Bateman ’24) performed a hilarious Zoom improv show, and we had regular Zoom game nights (where I discovered my extraordinary lack of talent for Jackbox games).
On one of the first days after the University-wide quarantine period ended, I had my first lockout. Panicked and unsure what to do, I knocked on my neighbor’s door, who I’d met briefly when we both happened to be returning to our rooms at the same time. Even though she had been taking a nap, the wonderful Erin Byrne ’24 didn’t hesitate to help me. She walked me down to North College and even lent me her incredibly soft jacket so I wouldn’t be cold in the biting February air. Kind acts like this made me and the other new first-years in the Block feel welcome.
While my acquaintances who lived in larger, more traditional residence halls like the Butterfields or Clark also experienced individual acts of kindness, they didn’t report immediately feeling surrounded by a loving community in the same way that I did.
Sloane Dzhitenov ’24 summed it up well when they told me, “Pretty much every single freshman that I met who was living in the Butts or Clark or anywhere else was complaining about how lonely and isolated they felt during the quarantine…. Whereas with us, there was only 20 or 30 of us in the building, and we would just kind of run into each other all the time.”
One of the most common critiques of Writer’s Block that I’ve heard is that it is isolating. This can definitely be true, but I think it’s more complicated. It’s true that the vast majority of us live in singles and that the Block isn’t close to the center of campus, but its small size and centralized structure invite, if not require, some neighborly interaction.
The space itself invites its fair share of criticism as well. As my friend Andres Angeles-Paredes ’24 put it, “the building itself is kinda in shambles.” Tim Caudell ’24, who lived in what we called the “Isolation Corner” last year—a hallway with two rooms separated by a door from the rest of the first floor—explained that “the building itself is not as welcoming as the people in it.”
Yet every spider that makes its way into the building through cracks in the screens is an opportunity for the community to grow stronger; as two of us transport it outside together, we chat and discover that we have more in common than our hesitancy to kill bugs.
In no way do I mean to suggest that Writer’s Block is the perfect dorm for everyone. I am aware of many ways in which my specific personality type made the Block a really good fit for me. For example, I’m an introvert, which has made having a single room wonderful. I’m also someone who loves to work in common spaces, and there are many common areas in the Block that I can (and do) constantly haunt. (I would like to take this moment to apologize to everyone who can’t get to their own room without seeing me leaning over my computer).
I have many friends who feel indifferent about the Block and some who don’t like it very much. I also think that some of the bonding and unique communal feeling among many of the first-years who lived in Writer’s Block last year had to do with the conditions brought on by that phase of the pandemic. During a solid portion of the Spring 2021 semester, we weren’t allowed to have in-person club meetings or visit dorms other than our own, so our only opportunities for in-person socialization came from interacting with those living next door or down the hall.
However, even now, when many of the COVID-19 restrictions on campus have been lifted, there’s something special about Writer’s Block that makes me quite content with my decision to live there again this year. Maybe it’s sharing a kitchen with all of the 30-odd residents or being evacuated once a month amidst blaring fire alarms (the delights of living above a restaurant), but there is a collectivist atmosphere in the building that makes it feel like home.
My current neighbor, Audrey Nelson ’25, explained that she really appreciates the atmosphere of the common areas in the building: “Being in the common spaces is so fun,” she said. “Everybody’s super friendly…and really easygoing, you can just be dancing around or lying on the floor and nobody’s going to look at you weird.”
At the same time, Nelson agrees that living in Writer’s Block doesn’t always allow first-years to make the same connections as larger dorms. “I’ve made really good friends with my close neighbors, but I do feel like the dorm itself is a teeny bit isolating,” she said.
Writer’s Block is a slightly atypical residential experience that only works well for some people. Personally, its tight-knit atmosphere and exceedingly kind residents have made me feel at home even during my hardest moments at Wesleyan. Dzhitenov summed it up perfectly when they said, “There’s really nothing like being friends with people who you live with.” I believe in the power of the Block.
Amina Mednicoff-Misra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.