The excitement and action on Penn’s campus comes with an unexpected cost: noise. As Penn students, we are enveloped by a constant barrage of sounds. Between Philadelphia’s bustling streets and the constant clamor of Locust Walk, things can easily get overwhelming.
At some point, you may just want to retreat back to your dorm room to seek some peace for a quick nap or distraction-free studying. However, there’s often no quiet to be found. You can lock the windows and close the doors, but the noise still finds you. No matter how hard you try, the sound of incoming traffic and honking horns breaks your focus. Just as an idea comes to mind, it’s drowned out by an overhead helicopter. Or maybe you find yourself overhearing your roommate’s conversation, even though he’s not even in the same room. And before you know it, you give up on studying and revert to mindless scrolling on your phone.
Of course, students who can afford it could invest in some posh noise-canceling headphones. But a more permanent solution is called for: dorm soundproofing.
City dwellers should be no strangers to the loud ruckus of their environment, but Penn’s dorms are exceptionally ill-equipped to handle it. Penn as a school has had a long and illustrious history, and so have our dorms. Quad dorms date their construction to 1895 with an impressive Tudor Gothic architecture style. But soundproofing isn’t among their lists of strengths. It certainly doesn’t help that the new Penn housing policy doesn’t allow both first- and second-year students to live off campus.
For another example, Stouffer-Mayer was originally designed for graduate family housing, but was later repurposed into undergraduate housing. As a result of this repurposing, walls within units are much thinner than your average wall; sound travels effortlessly through them.
The sources of noise that one may experience in a dorm are varied. Take the construction outside Harnwell College House, for example. The construction of the electrical substation is expected to be completed in October 2023. Until then? Nearby residents will have to listen to the sounds of heavy machinery and drilling from morning to afternoon, five days a week. The construction for the expansion of the Graduate School of Education has hours even earlier, with the construction crew beginning work at 6 a.m.
And if you are walking down Locust Walk in the evening or on weekends, it’s more than common to pass a partying fraternity or sorority. In fact, you’d probably hear the booming bass of the music before spotting the winding lines of people. The music reaches large swaths of campus, and certainly doesn’t vanish when you close your dorm room doors. Unlike construction, these parties don’t just end at 3 p.m. sharp, but can go late into the night — exactly when you are cramming for that incoming midterm you procrastinated for.
The source of disruption could even be straight from your dorm. Your roommate’s late-night excursions and disparate sleep schedules can be difficult to overcome when you don’t have the luxury to go about your business undisturbed. Noise, whether it be music or loud conversations, is definitely a common source of conflict between roommates and suitemates. Better soundproofing could reduce these potential frictions.
The list goes on. So do your annoyances. Though most students have begrudgingly accepted these disturbances, they probably also aren’t aware of just how detrimental noise can be on their health and well-being.
Let’s face it: The effects of unwanted sound in our lives are often dismissed as peripheral or overlooked. But yet, noise is a significant distraction factor which hinders our primary responsibility as students: learning. Experiencing constant noise leaves students aggravated and unfocused. In fact, studies on college students show that increased noise levels are associated with decreased attention control and harder time with reading or mental tasks.
Even beyond distraction, tangible health detriments accompany untamed sound pollution. Research shows that incessant environmental noises are a key factor in sleep disturbances and reduce deep sleep, a key indicator in sleep quality. Adding in factors like high course loads and extracurricular activities, it’s no wonder that Penn students often complain about being sleep deprived. Nocturnal environmental noises that disrupt sleep are liable for possible mood changes, annoyances, and decreased cognitive performance. These negative effects then make students even more susceptible to the impact of sound pollution. It’s a vicious cycle.
Apart from health implications, students simply deserve a place where they can be at peace. You want to be able to take an important job interview in the comfort of your own dorm without fear that background sounds will drown out your responses. You want to be able to watch late-night Netflix or lectures at double speed without disturbing your suitemate. And the lack of soundproofing invades privacy.
The issue is exacerbated by the fact that Penn requires on-campus housing for all first years and sophomores. Students are left unable to explore housing options that provide better soundproofing at potentially even cheaper prices. It’s no secret that first-year dorms are often the noisiest. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed; the common spaces of Riepe are marked with signs that read, “Plz keep volume down. All sounds pass through the thin windows” with an emphatic picture of a grouchy cat.
For incoming students, college is a precariously intricate balancing act. First years juggle newfound academic responsibilities, foreign living arrangements, and the ever-present midterm season. Moreover, they are thrust into a completely new social scene and expected to develop friendships and connections. Undue stress from a cacophony of University City noises beyond their control is yet another barrier preventing them from adjusting quickly.
If Penn is to require on-campus housing, it should be prepared to provide students with the peace and quiet they deserve. And poor soundproofing doesn’t cut it. On the brighter side, the Quad is facing renovations in a few years’ time, and Stouffer College House is currently under construction — presumably improving a list of factors. Let’s hope that soundproofing is a priority on that list.
ANDREW LOU is a Wharton and Engineering junior studying finance, statistics, and computer science from Connecticut. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.