Two birds, one stone: MSU needs more study rooms, less empty dormitories

Two students work in room 1100 of the Old Main Academic Center, one of 14 study rooms available for use in the building.

Last week, I participated in a student-led focus group. It was late in the evening in McCool Hall, and a handful of undergrads asked a series of leading questions about our study habits and practices. The prevailing conversation topic for the duration of the hour was the private study rooms scattered around campus. 

You know them. There are a few in the basement of the library; they line the ends of the third floor of Old Main Academic Center. They are exceptionally well-lit rooms with floor to ceiling glass on one wall. If you stare too long at one already occupied, a fellow student will look back at you with the mammal-anxiety of an animal in an enclosure. 

Maybe it was because one of the organizers opened with the preface that their project was about needing more study rooms, but it seemed it did not matter what they asked us—what music we listened to while studying, or whether we study in a group—the conversation always turned back to the quality of ambient noise in study rooms, or their ability to foster accountability between groups.

Despite the aforementioned fish tank feeling, study rooms are as good as my focus group suggested. My bedroom is full of all of my favorite things: namely my bed, and I can spend upwards of an hour on the mental preparation step of studying when surrounded by such immediate distraction and comfort. Comparatively, I once read "Essentials of Cultural Anthropology" (second edition) by Kenneth Guest cover to cover in one sitting when I was sitting in a private study room in Old Main.

My only real complaint is the same as my focus group iterated and re-iterated: real estate is hard to come by. There is no worse feeling than that academic impotence upon finding every study room of the library already occupied. 

According to the aptly named "Rooms" tab on the Mississippi State University libraries website, our campus is equipped with 20 study rooms, though, I count at least 22. There are four in the library of veterinary sciences, 14 in Old Main and two in the Mitchel-Memorial Library. They omit the two rooms in the basement near the bound journals. Meanwhile, the MSU newsroom reported an enrollment of 23,806 in 2021. Sure, many STEM buildings have common spaces for students within a particular major, but those of us in majors that produce less wealthy alumni are left to fend for ourselves.

Realistically, of course, there is not 23,000 people clamoring for a private study room at any given time, but I also think it would be fair to say more than 22 people trying to get one at the same time cannot be a rare occurrence.

Asking the school to build a series of prefabricated study rooms would be over-zealous—real estate is hard to come by, after all—but what about Rice Hall? In 2019, Hannah Blankenship for The Reflector reported on Rice's uncertain future after it ceased being a dormitory, claiming the university was exploring a number of options, including refurbishment, repurposing and even a tentatively scheduled demolition. Now, Rice is serving as an ad-hoc office space for the music department. Luckily, according to the MSU housing website, Rice Hall housed 511 people in its heyday, so there is still some vacancy.

The building could be repurposed into a surplus of private study spaces, even if it is only in the weeks toward the end of the semester when things heat up. A system could be set up where students check in at the front desk of the old building and scan their IDs to receive a room assignment and a key. Specific colleges could reserve a floor for a night, where TAs could float around room to room, offering assistance and advice. 

All the rooms should have desks already, and each floor should theoretically have a functional communal bathroom. No one would expect the showers to be turned on, but I think a cold blast of water could come in handy for those all night cram sessions.

Study rooms are an amazing tool that MSU offers students to help with the workload we take on when enrolled here. Rice Hall might be a little shabby, but that is not to say it is not functional, and at the right angle, even lovable. It has the potential to be that same great tool for students, just more fit for our size of enrollment. We already paid for the building. We might as well use it.

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