Moving Into GWU's Freshman Zoo

Perry Landman-Hopman, left, and his roommate Zachary Hanover settled into Thurston Hall yesterday. The large dorm is famous for its rowdiness.
Perry Landman-Hopman, left, and his roommate Zachary Hanover settled into Thurston Hall yesterday. The large dorm is famous for its rowdiness. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 2, 2007

Long before he left Memphis to start his freshman year at George Washington University, Zachary Hanover had ordered a T-shirt for his dorm: Thurston Hall . . . the rumors are true.

Every year, about 1,100 new students cram into Mabel Nelson Thurston Hall for what some say is the quintessential freshman experience. This year, with almost every one of them connected online on Facebook for months now, members of the Class of 2011 got a crash course in college life even before moving in yesterday.

The first parties had been planned, fake IDs ordered, friendships made and rivalries created. Most knew all about the dorm's festive reputation and were happily passing on the rumor that Playboy named Thurston Hall the most sexually active dorm in the country.

"It'll be fun," Hanover said and laughed. His room was full of boxes yesterday, but he had already hung his black Jack Daniel's flag. "Lots of fun. And -- it'll be fun. To put it in printable words."

Thurston is legendary in part because it's been such an extreme example of the freshman rite of passage: Leave home, plunge into the unknown, start a new life, meet lots of strangers, make lifelong friends. In Thurston, where most students live four to a narrow room and the halls are always swarming with people, it doesn't take long to forget about high school.

This year, there aren't so many strangers. And the life isn't quite so unknown. Facebook saturation was so absolute at campuses across the country that one college administrator said orientation had turned into a reunion.

Patrick McLendon started a GWU Class of 2011 group within five minutes of getting his acceptance letter last fall. By yesterday, 1,759 of the 2,150 freshmen had joined it, spun off other groups, analyzed their housing options, taunted people in other dorms and gotten to know some of the people on their floors. The Thurston group was large and rowdy.

"1st night Thurston party," one pre-frosh wrote. "We're going to gonna have the sickest rep of any hall at GW before classes even start."

"We should definitely submerge Thurston under water," another wrote, "and wear scuba equipment and have a dance rave."

Another: We need a pi?ata.

And: "We have to live up to the reputation passed down by generations of Thurstonites!"

Nick Gross, a freshman who had five party invitations before getting to campus, had heard about lots of pranks from his older brother, who woke up one morning and found a friend had tied him into his bed. He duct-taped the guy into his room for revenge. "If I didn't get into Thurston, I would've been mad," Gross said.

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