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Designating Dorms

Designating Dorms

How KUA places students in its various dorms and how it plans to improve current facilities

Are you a female boarder at Kimball Union with soccer practice in twenty minutes? You better hustle down the hill to change in your dorm room. Are you a male boarder and need to grab your book for English class? You may be a little winded from hiking up the hill and further ascending to the fourth floor of DR (which does not have an elevator) to grab your text.

Photo by Eileen Williams
Girls often face a long slog up the hill during the winter months

We know that the boy’s dorms are on the top of our iconic Hilltop, and the girl’s dorms are at the bottom of the hill, but how much do you know about how students are assigned to the dorms?


Among the 340 students at Kimball Union, 75% board on campus, making Kimball Union a true boarding school. The setup of the dormitory is always a critical deciding factor for prospective families looking to send their child here. KUA has 10 residential halls: 4 for the boys are on the top of the hill, and the other six are located between the middle and bottom of the hill, housing the girls. Students may wonder why the setup is structured like this and even if this has always been the arrangement.  I had a chance to speak with Ms. Brooklyn Raney, the Dean of Community Life, about the nuts and bolts of dorm life here at KUA.


According to Raney, the setup of the dormitories on campus has been changed multiple times: “[It] is based on numbers, different renovations, and apartment needs for faculty.” Therefore, things have been changing frequently. “[A] few years ago, we felt like strengthening our boys’ community and girls’ community, and [decided] keeping dorms by gender would be good for [the greater] community. And I do think we have seen positive impacts.”


The dorm distribution decisions are made by a team: “Over the summer, everyone from Admissions and everyone from [the] Student Life [department] will have a two-day long retreat. We learn about every incoming student and we talk about our returning students, look at their preferences, and do matchings from there.”

Kurth was recently renamed and received a 2017 dedication reception with the Kurth family.

While some dorms, like DR or Bryant, seem to always have a few extra empty rooms, other dorms — like Mikula — are hotly contested living spaces and require special procedures when designating space. “It always goes by seniority[for most of the cases],” said Raney, “if you are [already] in the dorm, you have the priority to stay in the dorm. And then it goes to four-year seniors, three-year seniors, two-year seniors and all the way down. But the proctors get to choose which dorm they want to be in first.”


Kurth House, formerly know 1813 House, was renovated two years ago. Many students have expressed a desire for similar improvements in other dorms. Raney has confirmed that that is the plan: “Next is another girl’s’ dorm that is similar to Kurth House. We are looking at different possibilities for a similar kind of add-on to a current faculty home, or build a new faculty home.”

The winter hike for boys hoping to get to their dorm in the snow

Most of the big dorms at KUA  house the male students, and they usually reside on top of the hill. Vice versa, girl’s dorms on campus are usually small to medium-sized, with the exception being Chellis. Raney was able to explain the clear split between the two dorm genders: “[At] One point there was going to a big shuffle and shift to put girls in DR, but it didn’t make sense with Rowe and Densmore and Bryant being boy’s. So I wouldn’t necessarily say that we are set on girls being in small dorms and boys being in big dorms. It just happens to be the configuration of the architecture on campus. That’s the way it’s been and [will] remain.” Raney explained, “But we are always open to student feedback and different ideas for what fits best for everyone.”


“Part of our strategic plan is definitely to hit a 50-50 gender balance,” Raney added, citing an initiative that Mr. Schafer has been promoting. She also connected the situation with reality: “It is difficult because, in the market today, more families are willing to send their boys away as 9th graders to boarding school and less likely to send their girls as 9th graders. We are always fighting that—we want a healthy balance and representation of any and all.”


Of course, one topic that flies in the face of dorm designation is that of gender nonconformity. Raney disclosed, “I think our bigger challenge [is the one] I had with gender nonconforming, nonbinary, transgender, really looking at gender sexuality and figuring it out. We have this binary system, which seems to be meeting the needs of our students currently, so I don’t see anything changing. But that would definitely have been an issue that we would entertain from a student-drive perspective.”


Getting back to the issue of facilities, Raney made it clear that there is an ongoing focus on improving the quality of the dorms: “We always want to improve structurally: carpets, paint and common rooms. Mr. Schafer thinks hard and thinks a lot about the space—community space—and what drives the greatest connections.” Raney explained further, “We call it a family residential program for a reason; KUA is all about community and family, so setting up the space is a way that supports that and promotes that  — it is essential for us.”

Kilton bonding: dorm life means spending time together playing games, watching movies, or just hanging out in the common room.

As one of KUA’s core values, the feeling of a “family home” is also taken into consideration when building the dorm. Therefore, faculty housing also plays an important influence when creating a new dorm: “As we build them, a huge mission right now is to make sure that every student has been into a faculty home, [that they are welcomed] at the faculty homes, and feel like they have a family or many families on this campus. We want to make sure that faculty have spaces [that] are happy and feel comfortable so they are bringing students into their space and create the family atmosphere.”


Because of the efforts made by the Student Life Office, the dorms are no longer just places to stay, they are a second home where students feel they can laugh and talk with families.

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