Familiar living in Hampton U. Virginia Cleveland Hall

By Dardinia Joseph

In 1974, Virginia Cleveland Hall, a women’s residency at Hampton University , was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and later declared a National Historic Landmark. The mud-colored walls and house-on-the-hill features adds years to the High Victorian structure.

Virginia Cleveland, commonly known as VC among students, was the first dormitory to be built in 1874. Since then many would agree that few residences has changed. Tony Dunlap said that not much has changed since his great aunt attended the former Hampton Institute in 1940.

“It looks like the castle from Harry Potter right down to the ghost,” said Dunlap, a junior from Ohio who resides in Harkness Hall.

Like many ancient buildings used for inhabitance, folklore and ghost stories are common. Resident Angela Williams, a sophomore from New York City, said she was a believer of the dorm’s ghost tales.

“We heard that she was a nursing major, who hung herself after she found out that she was pregnant,” she said.

“There’s this door that is blocked off, so we went upstairs, and ran back down. We were really immature then.”

Apart from the fiction one resident believes VC to be a living nightmare.

Residence Assistant Shay Harris said, “They shouldn’t house students in here anymore. It’s over 100 years old; it needs a break.”

Williams added, “Although I had the opportunity to reside in a historical landmark, it could have been updated.”

In 2009, VC was listed No. 1 in the Princeton Review’s list of “dungeon dorms.”

Raccoon infestation and a leakage problem increased dissatisfaction on student-reviewed college prowler.com where the dorm received a D grade.

The cafeterias that are directly attached to the dormitory have been under scrutiny from health inspectors. For the past 10 years the two cafeterias known colloquially as the “big café” and “little café” have failed 28 inspections since September 2009 at city-data.com.

A new dining facility is being built across campus to replace the below-sea-level, vermin infested structures.

Williams says, “My roommate and I were directly above the kitchen area, so when they would have food fights, we could feel the floor shake as everyone would run out.”

Besides raccoon infestations, residents also face the challenge of faulty trash disposal systems, sensitive fire alarms, malfunctioning temperature controls, and even fleas.

Former resident and sophomore Glenda Latimore said, “They scattered residents throughout the dorm trying to keep the flea problem quiet. They never solved it.”

Students claim they can hear the raccoons at night running through the walls. Others complained about the trash shoot being backed up and having to hold their noses to deflect the smells of rotting food and hair-care products.

The backed-up trash can was what Williams described as being, “a closet with two garbage cans in it.”

“The alarms are set off often, usually due to someone doing their hair,” said Harris.

From heat to cold is the case as Williams said, “At one point during the winter the heat completely shut off. I have a picture of my friend in a sweatshirt and scarf when that happened.”

Princeton University houses the 1754 Nassau Hall dorm, which is older than Virginia Cleveland Hall. The dorm is now used as the president’s office. Stanhope Hall, another old historical landmark, has been converted into the center of African-American studies on the New Jersey campus.

Princeton doesn’t feel the need to remodel or house students in their historical landmarks. Instead wet ceilings, chipped paint, raccoons, water bugs and an alleged ghost plague the freshman of Virginia Cleveland Hall and so many other dorms on the campus.

According to architectural historian Marc Holma of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, historic buildings should be used as their intended design.

“If it was built as an office building in 1860,” said Holma, “then it should remain one unless a compatible alternative use can be found.”

Most people think the best way to preserve something is to not touch it. On the contrary Holma said: “The best way to preserve a historical building is to have people living in it, so they can paint it and do other forms of maintenance.”

When asked if it was safe it was to modernize historical buildings such as dormitories, Holma agreed.

“Uprgading a historic building is very common and not that difficult to do,” said Holma adding, “In fact, a lot of those buildings now have modern air condition and heating systems.”

So, why then has Hampton University decided to take its own route?

After calling the office of the Dean of Women numerous times, several employees said the administrator was not available for comment. Instead, the writer was told to look for answers in the University 101 Handbook, a freshman year handbook to the history of the university and a guide to campus living.

Apart from the negative side effects of it all, three residents can attest to a brighter side of the Virginia Cleveland living experience.

Williams said, “The best parts about being in VC are the memories and friendships you build, while living in these unsatisfactory living conditions. I’m still close with two girls who lived on my hall, and we still laugh about it today.”

Dorm director Hargrove, “is really involved and is always interested in making sure VC has something for the girls to participate in,” said Harris, who cited the open mic event on Dec. 1.

Latimore said, “I had a good experience living in VC. It was really familiar living that mad the drawbacks seem not as bad.”

Seems like Virginia Cleveland residents old and new can find calm in the storm of the dorm that extends beyond chipped paint and vermin, but embodies memories and friends.

The writer is a junior at the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications