As a public health nurse, a survivor of mental illness, and an alumni of the University of California, Santa Barbara, I am stunned to hear that Chancellor Yang and the Regents of the University of California are considering the seriously flawed dormitory design of amateur architect Charlie Munger. A building where 94 percent of the inhabitants do not have windows in their rooms and do not have roommates, is a recipe for disaster.
My freshman year at UCSB, I was one of the lucky few students who lived on the ocean-side eighth floor of the San Nicolas dorm. This room came with a million-dollar view of the ocean and of the university’s lagoon. When I moved in, I felt like I’d won the lottery. As the year wore on, and it became obvious I was suffering from depression, that view and the roommate that came with it saved my life.
That first year I was reclusive. I rarely left my room for anything more than class and the occasional meal. My roommate, on the other hand, was a social butterfly. She took full advantage of our million-dollar view and frequently invited new friends over to have a look. Our dorm room was constantly full of her friends. They did their best, in true Gaucho style, to include me and invite me to campus events and parties. While I didn’t have the energy or ability to push past my illness to join them, their frequent engagement propelled me forward. I looked forward to their visits, even though I usually spent them curled up in my bunk in an oversized hoodie, sometimes sobbing for reasons I could not articulate or even understand.
Finally, one day my roommate urged me to contact the university’s counseling center. I did. I credit her, and the psychiatrist I later saw at the student health center, with saving my life. I finally got the help I needed, and 22 years later live a full, happy and medicated life. If I’d lived in the dark, isolated environment that promises to be Munger Hall, I honestly don’t think I’d be here today to share my story.
Munger’s dormitory design is meant to shunt students into common spaces for the sake of collaboration and socialization. Anyone who has ever spent a day on the UCSB campus will see that, in general, these sun-seeking, fun-loving, and intelligent individuals are quite good at collaborating and socializing already. Those who aren’t, those like me, who struggle with mental illness, will only wither in the isolation and seclusion of their private rooms. They won’t have the comings and goings of a roommate to maintain a sense of normalcy and connection to the outside world. They won’t have windows to let in the abundant natural light that is a feature that draws many students to this beautiful campus.
To the Regents I ask: have you forgotten your own motto? Fiat lux. Let there be light.