It has been approximately 60 years since my parents helped me pack and move to Dover, Del., to enroll as a freshman at Delaware State College, now Delaware State University. I was a bit unusual compared to many of my classmates that resided in the dormitories on campus.
Unlike a few classmates who I remember well, I showed up on move-in day with several suitcases and a medium-sized foot-locker to transport my belongings, in particular, my clothing. I loved clothing back then just as I do today. In addition to my clothing and toiletry items, I took my record player, records and a typewriter. That was about it when it came to items I took to college with me.
This moving experience came to mind as I observed what was going on with my grandson as he and family members prepared for his move to West Chester University to begin his freshman year. Needless to say, his level of preparation for the move and conversations heard among parents relative to the belongings their young people were taking to college was so much different than what my generation carried to college, back in the day.
Going away to college back in the 1950s involved more than focusing on the items we would take with us. Once we moved beyond acceptance and getting our finances in order, we were then confronted with how we would get to the college of our destination.
Think about your options, back then. Regardless of where you were going, arrangements had to be made to make the trip from your home to college. Unlike today, an automobile for many families, back in the 1950s and ‘60s was a luxury. It was not just having an automobile in your family but having a reliable automobile. So, resolving the problem of transportation for the move to college was a critical issue.
Fortunately for me, around the time I was preparing for the move to college, my father purchased his first brand new automobile. Thus, it was not a big challenge to resolve the transportation to college issue.
I recall students arriving on our campus from places like Atlanta, Detroit and other places that were many miles away. No one came by way of airplane, and I cannot recall details how they arrived along with their personal belongings. While their trips obviously took some time, back in 1958, my drive with my parents to Dover seemed like an eternity.
There was no Interstate 95 so the trip required a drive down Broad Street to Passyunk Avenue; then taking Route 291 south through the heart of Chester to Wilmington, Del., and then Route 13 south to our college campus. Today, with all of the new highways, the trip can take about 75 minutes. But, back then, it took nearly three hours and seemingly that was forever.
Not everyone was fortunate to come from a family that owned a reliable automobile. Some students, however, were fortunate to find someone who was also traveling to the same campus and had access to an automobile so they could “bum,” or share a ride, and hopefully had room to transport their belongings. Now, simply because one obtained an automobile ride to their new campus home did not automatically mean that they had a large number of things to take with them.
Think about it; not much could end up in one automobile when two or three of the passengers were moving to a college campus. Some of you can remember those days clearly. You worked hard to meet entrance requirements and to scrounge up money to get into college until the things that you took with you were a secondary concern.
But, as some of you know, arriving on campus by way of an automobile was not the only way students moved from home to their college dormitory rooms, back in the day.
The second most popular way for students to travel to college with their belongings, in the past, was shared with me by several friends and acquaintances. A number of people told me that they packed one or two suitcases, took a bus ride to their college town and then a cab ride to their campus dormitory.
Some of you have asked, “How much could you pack in two suitcases?”
Not much. But then some students did not have much to pack as their families did not have much to begin with. So, a suitcase or two was all that they needed for their transition from home to college.
One of my colleagues told me that he arrived on his college campus with all of his belongings in a plastic trash bag. Yes, you read it correctly; all of his belongings for the entire school year stuffed in a trash bag. What he shared with me was not surprising as I observed several of my classmates, back then, arriving on campus after they thumbed or hitch-hiked their way to college with a brown shopping bag.
For many of us, arriving on campus in September gave little hope for a trip back home until the Thanksgiving Holiday, if not, the Christmas Holiday break. So, there was little opportunity to secure additional items from home because there was little chance of returning home other than on special holidays.
Just think, most of us made our first visit to our dormitory rooms when we made our first visit to our college campus. We had no idea with regard to the size of our new rooms, the layout, the number of occupants or the accommodations. What my generation took with us and what we experienced in college was a far cry from what young people experience today.
If you have first-hand knowledge of someone going off to college today, for the first time, then you know the various items, in addition to clothes, that they carry with them. You realize that a suit case or two and most certainly a shopping or trash bag are far from adequate to transport one’s belongings.
In the case of my grandson, he made an initial visit to his dormitory room several weeks ago to drop off a number of items. On Friday, he moved onto campus to begin his freshmen year. This final trip to move onto the campus required a footlocker, several boxes and bags to transport the remainder of his belongings.
He took things that did not exist in my era or if they did, would have not been allowed in dormitory rooms. If you can relate to my college days, you might recall that hot plates were not allowed. So, I had some difficulty relating to my grandson packing a new microwave to take to school.
While most of my generation arrived on campus without a typewriter, a computer appears to be a requirement today. As for the mini refrigerators that are found in most dormitory rooms today, our dormitory window sills were the closest we came to refrigeration.
Now, you did not show up on campus with a refrigerator and nothing to go into it. So, students also engaged in food shopping before moving into their dormitory rooms. Back in the day, there were no televisions in dormitory rooms.
Today, many students have televisions where appropriate cable and television connections are available. As for telephones in college, my access to a telephone was the public telephone that hung on the wall outside of our second-floor lounge. This is not an issue today as practically every student has a mobile telephone; they had one prior to showing up on campus.
At least one student arrived in my dormitory with an iron but no ironing board. Not having an iron was no big deal for most of us used our ingenuity when it came to getting a crease in our pants. Some of you used the technique where you placed your pants between your box spring and mattress. If you did this, you can attest to getting a crisp crease in your pants, back in the day.
Of course, 2017 is years away from 1958. Much has changed. Back then, life was significantly different and the way of life for Black folk was significantly different. Our opportunities for the schools we could attend for a higher education were limited.
So, how we arrived at college was different. What traveled along with us to our dormitory was different. But, for those of us who are helping someone move onto a college campus and a college dormitory today and experienced such a move in the past, we know that the moving experience alone is significantly different than it was as freshman, back in the day.
But, without a doubt, the opportunities that college afforded us are as important to students today as they were, back in the day.