When I read Paniz Khosroshahy’s “Who is the ‘typical college experience’ for?” (November 16, Commentary, page 9), I felt defensive, as I do whenever someone criticizes Molson Hall, my residence. But I also identified with a lot of what she said. I consider myself to be the one of the many exceptions to the “Molsonian rule” – I stay in on weeknights, I am majoring in Women’s Studies, and I push the Molson Hall Council for dry events. I believe there is a middle ground to life in Molson that I and so many of my rez-mates occupy, and that it deserves space in the public’s perception of the residence. My response to the “I’m sorry” that inevitably follows when I tell people I live in Molson is always, “Actually, it’s not that bad.”
I did not feel this way during the first week of school. I felt ostracized and alone. I was convinced that everyone around me was succeeding in finding friends while I struggled to keep a conversation going for more than a few minutes. Particularly isolating was the night that Molson residents climbed Mount Royal – I didn’t talk to anyone for most of the excursion. At the top of the mountain, I met a floor fellow and student from another floor, who has since moved out of Molson. I felt better – that is, until I walked back down the mountain alone, coming home to a game of beer pong that I would never want to participate in, nor feel comfortable doing so.
I am confident that I am not the only person who found that night alienating; it is surprisingly easy to believe you are alone in a building of 220 people. But classes started, Frosh ended, and I made friends, found communities, and even felt comfortable enough to run for a Hall Council position. I decided that Molson would only become the experience I wanted if I made it that experience. For me, that meant joining Council, trying a lot of different things, and meeting a lot of different people, until I found what worked for me. I believe that this process, though often uncomfortable, is an important part of life in residence and in university.
Reducing Molson to a boozefest comprised of oppressive displays of heteronormative sexuality, masculinity, and racism does students in Molson and all residences a disservice. Publicly shaming the “Molson lifestyle” as if it is universal not only perpetuates, but validates the stereotype people hold about the residence, just like the description on the Unofficial McGill Guide does. Sometimes, Molson is an oppressive boozefest, but those are usually the same nights that McConnell, Gardner, New Rez, and other residences are also swamped with parties you feel like you can’t escape. Most of the time, Molson’s bark is worse than its bite, and the idea of Molson is much more harmful than the experience itself.
I acknowledge that residence life can be oppressive to students with marginalized identities in ways with which I can only sympathize, rather than empathize. As a queer white woman, my Molson experience has been this: I have felt pressure to go out when I didn’t want to. But this conversation sounds a lot more like “are you sure you don’t want to come with us?” than “she’s so boring for staying home.” I am sure casual sex happens in Molson, but I don’t hear about it constantly because conversations about sex seem to be contained between friends, as one would expect. I tell my friends about the sex I’m having or not having, and they tell me the same. It is definitely not elevator conversation that infiltrates every part of my life.
I agree with arguments that criticize Molson’s problematic culture. However, the ‘Molson problem’ exists in all residences at McGill and on university campuses across Canada and the U.S.. The Molson problem exists because the residence itself exists within a society that has the same problems. For a lot of people, university means freedom, and to a lot of those same people, freedom means drinking and casual sex. This is a reflection of our society, its restrictive alcohol policies, and its systemic sex negativity – not the particular students in Molson. Upper Rez is overwhelmingly white, but so is our university. Molson is a breeding ground for unfettered displays of masculinity because we live in a patriarchal society. Other residences are not exempt from these problems just because they aren’t Molson; to be the most valuable, our criticism of Molson must focus on the systems of oppression that make Molson what it is, rather than the residence itself.
What is the solution, then? One option is to stop buying into the Molson stereotype and to prevent other people from making the same mistake. Eliminating the element of choice in ranking Upper residences could help with this – if Molson, McConnell, and Gardner were pooled together on the residence application, the same people would live in Upper Rez as a whole, but there would be more variety within each residence. For now, when people in Molson perpetuate its oppressive culture, we need to talk about it. By failing to say anything, offer a solution, tell my floor fellows, or even directly address the behaviour, I’m contributing to the problem.
To that end, I’d like to give floor fellows the credit they deserve in this conversation. From the first night, when the group activity was an excursion to a bar on St. Laurent, our floor fellows offered us alternatives to drinking-related events. Posts in the Molson Facebook group from students and floor fellows alike promote almost exclusively dry events. It is very possible this is not what the author’s floor fellows did, but it needs to be said that this year, the floor fellow role has gone far beyond harm reduction. I believe that progress has been made since the author lived in Molson, and continues to be made thanks to our floor fellows.
I will not deny that, sometimes, I feel uncomfortable in Molson. Sometimes, hearing someone yell “bitch” five times in the common room feels like a Molson-specific problem. Sometimes, I feel like the ten people downstairs playing beer pong every night are living the quintessential Molson life, and that I can’t and won’t ever fit in. But there is so much more to Molson, its 220 residents, its floor fellows, and the way people experience it. Life in Molson can be one-dimensional, but only if you decide it is. I refuse to do so.
Geneva Gleason is a U0 Arts student. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.