There is no dorm more infamous than Marsh Hall at the University of Richmond, which up until recently has been a male-only building. Just say the name to any student and they’ll think of shattered exit signs, scream- ing men and some story they heard — or lived through — about bodily fluids plastered across bathrooms, hallways and doors.
Though the dorm has maintained its share of stories, many current students may be unfamiliar with exactly how colorful a past the building has. And as the dorm enters its rst year of co-ed living, it’s hard to say whether that wild reputation will follow.
Since the dorm’s creation in 1970, it has been considered Richmond’s “Animal House,” rife with pranks and vandalism. The reputation was so pervasive that Vice President Student Development Steve Bisese was called the “zookeeper” while he was an area coordinator in the dorm during the late 1980s. This seemed a reasonable nickname considering that the semester before Bisese arrived on campus, students had indirectly lit the building on fire.
It was the last day of the spring semester of 1984 when a two-alarm re spread throughout the hall, creating $50,000 worth of damages. The cause was a recracker burning in an “overstuffed” couch, which would lead to a ban on Marsh residents owning overstuffed furniture.
This wasn’t the last fire Marsh faced, as only four years later, a lounge television caught fire, causing an estimated $12,000 in damage to the building.
The online Collegian archive offers glimpses into what was happening in Marsh during this time. At the start of the school year following the 1984 fire, Richmond College administration started a crackdown on illegal parties in the dorm in the hopes of changing its reputation. One anonymous student was quoted as saying: “First, the Campus Police tell me I can’t drink a beer outside. Then the dean comes by my room and tells me to turn my stereo down. What am I paying for, a university or a jail?” It’s worth noting that this was before the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which set the legal drinking age to 21 years old, was enforced in Virginia, so students over the age of 19 could legally drink at the time.
One of the most bizarre stories occurred at the same time in 1984. A 30-year-old man managed to enter Marsh Hall, take off all of his clothes, put them in a washing machine, and then wandered the halls naked while brandishing a 4 1⁄2-inch knife.
“The old spirit of Marsh will die. I talked to an alumnus who lived in Marsh in the mid ‘70s; he asked me if it was still as wild as in the days of yore. It broke my heart to explain that Westhampton women would be taking over.” -Colin Quinn, The Collegian, 2002
The 1990s didn’t seem to be terribly calmer, with vandalism incidents so high resident assistants and area coordinators decided to create a neighborhood watch in 1998. In one case that year, three freshmen poured water on another student’s computer, lit his mattress on fire, and poured hot sauce, chocolate sauce and shaving cream on his bed and photographs. Within the 1990 school year, 168 cases of vandalism were reported — one commonly cited type of vandalism is the ripping out of sinks from bathroom walls.
There are also some noteworthy arrests throughout the decade, from one instance where two drunk students attacked a Marsh RA to another in which a student wrestled a pizza from a Domino’s delivery man in 1990.
The dorm was quite different than it is today, as the dorm consisted of both freshmen and upperclassmen and men and women lived on opposite sides of the lake, hence the naming of the “Westhampton” and “Richmond” sides of campus.
And while the dorm was certainly chaotic, it was also a very active place which former area coordinators remember fondly.
“Living in Marsh was my favorite time as a live-in staff member be- cause of the energy and the students that were involved in that building,” Patrick Benner, director of residence life & undergraduate student housing and area coordinator of the dorm in 2001, said.
While the dorm has never been co-ed, it did spend a few years as an all-women’s dorm because of the need for more space for female students starting in 2002, Andrew McBride, Associate Vice President for Facilities and Uni- versity Architect said. In return, Gray Court was converted to an all-male dorm, Benner said. This was the first move to integrate housing on campus.
Some students anticipated the destruction of Marsh’s reputation.One Collegian article in 2002, titled “Marsh Hall memories will live on,” mourned the loss of what author Colin Quinn called the essence of Richmond College.
“The old spirit of Marsh will die,” Quinn wrote. “This weekend I talk- ed to an alumnus who lived in Marsh in the mid ‘70s; he asked me if it was still as wild as in the days of yore. It broke my heart to explain that Westhampton women would be taking over.”
A lot of students had investments in their respective buildings and the breaking of tradition upset some students, Benner said, though others saw it as a great opportunity.
The dorm was renovated before the women moved in, though one re- maining controversy was that urinals remained in the bathrooms, which then raised the question of how permanent a change this would be. It would not long until it was converted into a rst-year men’s dorm, which Bisese said allowed rst-year men to bond better and avoid an early rush pressure from students in Greek life.
Some of Marsh’s residents’ wild antics have certainly remained, espe- cially regarding vandalism.
“I believe Marsh really has not changed that much,” Bisese said. “You always had more of things in Marsh because it was one of the biggest halls.”
Regardless, he did say students have de nitely treated the dorm better in recent years and, if the lack of major res in the dorm are any indication, this seems to be true. Generally, the amount of crime in a particular dorm is dependent on its occupants for the year, Assistant Chief of Police Beth Simonds said.
Marsh Hall tends to have a slightly higher number of larceny and van- dalism incidents, mostly pertaining to stealing and destroying exit signs, she said, but it is otherwise similar to any other dorm at UR. How different will it be with the implementation of co-ed housing?
“Male halls tended to have more vandalism and be more on the crazy side,” Bisese said. “As we have made halls co-ed students have been more satisfied.”
He also hoped that co-ed freshmen housing would lead to healthier male and female friendships, a concern that has come up more as a result of sexual-assault controversies last year.
Benner is a little more unsure about what exactly co-ed housing will look like, though he said that incoming students de nitely seemed excited about co-ed housing.
“I’ve even had a few conversations with some alums where their chil- dren are coming here and they’re really excited about it,” Benner said.
In the 15 years since men and women started living across either side of the lake, the dynamics of student housing has certainly looked different. How this new shift will look for the infamous Marsh Hall will be up to its rst residents of the 2017 school year.