A Day in the Life: A Look Inside U-M Residence Halls

A Day in the Life: A Look Inside U-M Residence Halls


By Sharon Morioka, ’84, MA’86. Photography by Leisa Thompson. Originally appeared in the late fall 2014 issue of the member-exclusive Michigan Alumnus magazine. 

From September through April, daily life in the University’s 18 residence halls follows a special rhythm of comings and goings, an ebb and flow of activity. Michigan Alumnus recently spent a random day—Monday, Oct. 6—tracking those rhythms of four halls: North Campus’ Bursley Hall, the largest at the University; Couzens Hall, one of six on the Hill; the small, women-only Betsy Barbour-Helen Newberry residence in the heart of Central Campus; and South Quadrangle, which reopened this fall after renovations.

Early Morning: Coming to Life


Freshman Sarah Dieck, left, and junior Shannon Folster, prepare breakfast at Toast, a micro-restaurant in the newly renovated South Quad dining hall.

Before sunrise, it’s pretty quiet outside South Quad. As the morning goes on, students slowly trickle down to the dining hall and other common areas. Staff members, including student workers, have risen early to make sure the morning meal is ready so students can get a quick bite before heading out. By 9 a.m., the level of activity peaks for the morning.

“We then see people go out into the University in a stream as they meet up with other people,” says Amir Baghdadchi, assistant director of communications in University Housing, of the morning rush. As students leave to take their places in lecture halls, classrooms, and labs around campus, another hush settles over the hall.

Mid-Morning: Calm Before the Storm


Freshman Maninder Singh and roommate Zach Chornoby take a break in their room in Couzens.

With many students away, it’s quiet but busy, especially for dining hall staff members as they prepare for lunch. But it’s also a chance for maintenance to make repairs, custodians to clean, and other facilities staff to take care of business.

For those students who don’t have to be elsewhere, this is an opportunity to catch up on their laundry or spend quality time with their roommates.

Midday: The Rush is On


Students stream back to South Quad for lunch.

“If the building has a dining hall, then it will begin cranking up with amazing activity,”‘ says Baghdadchi. “Students just materialize where it was perfectly quiet before.” Lines form at dining halls around campus as students arrive, in true “Michigan Time,” at 10 minutes after the hour.

Late Afternoon: Coming Home


Outside Bursley, buses drop off and pick up students in a cycle that will continue well into the night.

Around 5:30 p.m., activity begins again. “In the streets outside, there’s one-way traffic—everyone is streaming in,” says Baghdadchi. “The whole hall transforms.” Students settle in to eat dinner, study, and socialize throughout the building. It is in the residence hall that social and academic activities blend perfectly together.

“You walk past a table, and the conversation’s all in French,” says Baghdadchi. “Or you’ll see sofas getting pushed together to form a small fort dedicated to political economy. It’s an academic building as much as any on campus for the amount of thinking, the amount of collaboration that goes on there.”


Mondays are busy for Eman Hijab; after a long day on Central Campus, she returns to Bursley, eats a quick dinner, and attends a two-hour residence hall staff meeting. Finally, she returns to the quiet of her room.

Upstairs in the rooms, students chat with roommates or take advantage of serendipitous meetings as strangers stop by to say hello and introduce themselves. “Doors start opening up on corridors. And students start leaving them open,” says Baghdadchi. “It’s like that all through the evening, late into the night as students are studying with their doors open, meeting people, letting themselves get distracted.”

What are your favorite residence hall memories?

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