It’s the beginning of the year at Stanford. You enter a new friend’s dorm room and look around, hoping, yearning to find out more about the person through their chosen Amazon Prime bedspread and array of microwavable popcorn (Pop Secret? Skinny Pop? Orville Redenbacher?). Then you stop, startled. No posters, no photos — there’s absolutely nothing on their walls. The emptiness, the expanse of underutilized space, shocks you.
Stanford student culture has an outrageous prejudice, a distressing intolerance, a suffocating bias, against blank dorm room walls. Students seem to associate blank walls with a lack of personality (you apparently cannot like things/places/people unless you have at least one poster in tribute) or experiences (“pics or it didn’t happen” is grossly agreed upon). I’ve witnessed, firsthand, the desperate insistence of students who “just ordered multi-colored wall lights” or are “about to hang up some more fam and friend photos,” the shame and embarrassment written on their faces.
Okay, yes, I am that student. My walls lack “proper” decoration, according to most, and I find my character constantly called into question by visitors to my room.
However, my enlightenment, my moment of “oh, wait, y’all are wrong, and I’m right,” happened last week. My dorm had their “Dorm Storm” (which, if it sounds unfamiliar, is when the sophomores who lived in your freshman dorm the year prior visit their old rooms) and I got to meet the two students who previously inhabited my current living quarters. With huge smiles, they eagerly observed the room, and I held my breath: have I let the older, wiser, previous tenants down by leaving my walls empty? What wall-covering item should I lie and say I have waiting for pick-up at FedEx?
Yet, instead of criticizing, the two students gazed up at my walls with a look of nostalgia. They pointed at the markings on the paint, describing how they originated: improper wall hangers (guess someone didn’t read “Approaching Stanford” thoroughly enough…), clumsily moving a mini-fridge, and a battle between a permanent marker, the wall, and Clorox wipes (in which the permanent marker, unfortunately, reigned supreme). I realized that these markings I had been feeling so pressured to hide were actually bringing genuine joy to the two students, as they could reflect back on their freshman year. While this overwhelming nostalgia possibly could have been a result of minor intoxication (Dorm Storm = night of EBF = what do you expect?), I took the experience to heart. My walls are not just empty concrete and plaster, devoid of decoration. They’re more like those bizarre art pieces that are completely blank canvases but sell to some Upper East Side art collector with Prada sunglasses and the iPhone 27 for $15 million. Some may be skeptical, because the value isn’t exactly intuitive, but with the right eye, it’s darn well there.
Thus, I’ve decided to start a movement against the overwhelming intolerance and prejudice over blank dorm room walls. No, I’m not going to cover up my walls with Beatles posters or a dry-erase calendar. I’m going to admire these empty, white-ish walls as a miniature museum of Stanford’s history.
Can’t make it to the Cantor Library for the Leland Stanford Junior exhibit? Don’t sweat it – a blank dorm room wall will satisfy any craving for historical Stanford knowledge. That weird, plastered spot? Maybe someone couldn’t understand a particularly difficult problem set and decided the wall was at fault. That mysterious brown streak? I have no idea what it is and I’m honestly a little concerned about it, but it could also possibly have some meaning if you think hard enough. So, don’t judge the emptiness. Embrace it. Join the fight, and let those walls breathe.
Contact Lauren Grove at lgrove ‘at’ stanford.edu.