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Gina Stafford

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When I showed up as a freshman to get the key to my room in Crawford Hall on the campus of Tennessee Tech University, a couple of student workers welcomed me to college and pointed me to the stair well closest to room 311.

The three-story building didn’t have air conditioning, had one wall phone for each hallway, communal showers in two big, shared bathrooms on each floor and one laundry area in the basement. I had a set of bed linens, too many clothes, an electric typewriter and my textbooks–more stuff than my mother wanted me to take, but almost nothing by today’s standards.

Modest version of today’s student residence

Today, college residence hall nest-making is big business. Retailers from Lowe’s to Wal-Mart to Bed, Bath & Beyond start early in summer trying to sell students on the idea that they aren’t just moving onto campus, they’re making their own, first homes.

And over the three decades since I went away to school, colleges have adapted to changing preferences for more apartment-like and less dorm room-like accommodations.

Universities have also realized the opportunity they have to reach out and make students feel welcome by declaring a “move-in day” and showing up en masse with smiles and helping hands.

Which brings us to UTC’s 2019 “Operation Move In.” It took place on Thursday, Aug. 15, before the Monday that classes began on Aug. 19. The scheduling is to enable parents a weekend, if they need it, to help their new college kids get fully situated in their homes away from home. The weekend also lets students get a feel for campus and its surroundings.

Just a few weeks on the job, I wasn’t able to help at move-in day 2018. The big doin’s are coordinated by campus housing officials, known formally as the Office of Housing and Residence Life. This year, as in all years, that office began recruiting volunteers in June. Hearing the effort was still about 200 helpers short at the first of August, I signed up both Bill and myself.

Almost a dozen student housing complexes are home to about a third of the student body of roughly 12,000. That includes approximately 1,500 freshmen who are required to live on campus if their hometowns are 45 miles or more from UTC.

Among the remaining volunteer locations when I signed us up was Decosimo Apartments. Those mean something to me because that’s where I lived for a month in 2018 before Bill and I got moved from Knoxville to Chattanooga.

Bill’s 2018 move-in stint at Decosimo.

How did I have this much stuff to move in just for a month?

My very un-decorated Decosimo apartment of 2018.

I know my way around the building and the parking area there, so I signed myself up to help students carry in their belongings and for Bill to help direct traffic as parents had 20 minutes to unload cars at building entrances before finding long-term parking. Bill was OK with that assignment, he told me, emphasizing he wanted no part of lugging stuff into the building or up its stairwells.

Nope, no elevators in ‘Dee-co.’

All across campus, hundreds of volunteering employees–and their spouses, in many cases such as mine–made up a well-established system of coordination. Students with even-numbered room assignments were installed in the morning, odd-numbered assignments in the afternoon.

Bill inspects belongings to organize for hauling.

I knew the majority of my fellow employees we volunteered with and, per usual, Bill didn’t meet a stranger. He soon was pointing out the shortcut to this or the easiest way to that, and carrying loads inside despite swearing he wouldn’t be hauling anything.

 

Linens and clothing were just the start. Flat-screen TVs, cookware, dishes, shelving and every kind of blinged-out decor item went up the stairs that day. Cardboard from all the newly unboxed stuff and all the moving boxes had to be carried outside to a dumpster. Far too much of that flying to toss it into trash chutes. The dumpster outside had to be emptied at least once in the middle of the day.

Even the chancellor helped.

Parents mostly were too busy to get choked up about the milestone moment they were in the midst of, and students mostly were excited about the milestone moment they had long anticipated.

Representatives of student organizations surfed by every residence complex, handing out freebies and invitations to join this or that group.

Even Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke stopped by to greet some of the few thousand of his city’s newest residents.

Mayor Berke welcomes a Nashville couple and their son to campus and the city.

On-campus living bears little residence to the time when I was a student living on a campus, but helping this generation get settled was fun for Bill and me, and it was a great window into what students care about and the people who care about them.

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