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Anxiety 101 : Welcome to dorm life in 1994. It's a time of humility, communal bathrooms and, of course,panicked calls to home.

October 14, 1994|NORA ZAMICHOW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UCLA freshman Myisha Battey calls her mother in South-Central Los Angeles every day to tell her about her new world, about life with the kind of roommate who announces that she's having a shoe dilemma. Battey is plagued by worries that spread like a bad cold through her dorm: Can she keep up? Will she feel comfortable? "I don't want to get to class and seem intimidated," she says.

Down the hall, freshman Devin Senelick from Napa grapples with another crisis: anonymity. "When you don't know anybody, you can introduce yourself," he says. "They don't know who you used to hang out with or the mistakes you've made."

One floor below, a Huntington Beach sophomore rethinks her first night in the dorm after a male acquaintance pounded on the door and her roommate let him in. The two of them tussled on the bed; then the roommate repeatedly ordered the man to leave. The sophomore remained quiet, her heart pounding, wondering: "Oh my God. Is this date rape?"

This is one week in the life of a college dorm. It is a time of humility, walking down the hall to the floor's communal bathroom every morning, clad in your robe amid total strangers. It is a time of dire consequences, calling your mother to send a new dress for a sorority rush party. It is a time of apprehension, walking to your classrooms on the giant campus a day ahead simply so you'll know how to get there.

For anyone who graduated in the '60s or '70s, college is now stunningly different--and, in some respects, so are today's students, fed by microwave ovens and MTV. The Class of 1998, which has never used a rotary telephone, has dorm rooms filled with VCRs and computers, CD players and beepers.

Life in this dorm--Dykstra Hall, home to 877 men and women, most of them freshmen--is a caldron of anxiety. Students, male and female, are advised not to walk alone at night and to use the campus escorts. Self-defense classes are jammed. Because of concern about drinking, fraternity and sorority rushes are dry. Because of concern about sexually transmitted diseases, dorm dispensing machines offer condoms alongside the mini-boxes of detergent.

This is a generation so new that its members take pains to tell you that they are not a part of Generation X, the twentysomething crowd sagging under the stereotypes of Angst and apathy. That label falls just short of being repugnant, they say.

"We don't identify with Generation X--they portray themselves as hapless and wandering and not knowing," says Alisha Lee, a freshman from San Francisco. "We have a more definite sense of where we are going and what we want to do. We have a more direct sense of purpose."

On the Sunday before the 10-week 1994 fall quarter begins, a huge welcome banner sprawls down the side of Dykstra and a brown drawbridge-like ramp has been placed over the steps. In the stone courtyard, tables are loaded with cookies, punch and check-in packets. Rental microwaves and refrigerators are stacked by a folding table.

About 35,000 graduate and undergraduate students have flocked to UCLA's 419-acre campus, with undergrads paying almost $12,000 a year for classes, housing and food. Because of a slight miscalculation by college officials, this year's freshman class has soared to 4,125, the largest in seven years. Ten-story Dykstra is so packed that the study lounge on most floors has been temporarily converted into a four-person bedroom. Ensconced on the bottom bunk of one of those lounges this week is a Times reporter.

*

Parents pull up in the driveway, disgorging the contents of packed cars onto dollies. Or they load their arms with printers and hair dryers, electric coffeepots and weights. "My daughter has moved half the things from our house here," says Daniel Chan, a forensic toxicologist, referring proudly to sophomore Lisa, who is prying boxes from a van.

On the sixth floor, Jennifer Wall from the San Fernando Valley, along with her parents, grandmother and younger sister, eye the recently converted lounge that will be Jennifer's new home. She selects her bed, an upper bunk with a desk underneath.

Jennifer reads the banner just outside her door, announcing the floor's theme--Health & Well Being--and rolls her eyes at the prospect of an alcohol-free floor. "Don't worry," calls out a passing upperclassman. "A lot of kids here are going to be from overprotected families. Last year, this is where all the kegs were."

Martha Wall, Jennifer's mother, a high school math and science teacher, looks at the upper berth. "This will be the last time I ever make your bed," she says. Although the family lives only 15 minutes away, Martha Wall has tears in her eyes as she kisses her 18-year-old daughter and tells her to do her errands while her parents unpack.

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