Angry seniors, fed up freshman: did virtual school kill senior spaces?

Underclassmen in a hallway on September 27th 2021. Photo credit: Orla Meehan.
Kate Wilkens ’22 and Ivy Armstrong ’22 in the Old Library on September 27th 2021. Photo credit: Orla Meehan.

Throughout my four years at Urban, there has always been one unspoken rule: no underclassmen in the Old Library. As a freshman, I was too intimidated to even walk through the space. Today, however, many Urban students have noticed that underclassmen are often occupying traditionally upperclassmen spaces. Whether this shift is due to a change in norms, a lack of knowledge or a lack of respect on behalf of underclassmen is unclear. So, where did the tradition of grade spaces come from and why does it seem to be changing?
According to Lauren Gersick, director of college counseling and an Urban alum, the Old Library has always been a space where seniors have congregated. Since the school had far less square footage when they attended, however, they noted that there wasn’t the same kind of grade division you would see today as there was so little room. Despite this, when they were an underclassmen, Lauren said, “It did feel intense walking through the library sometimes because you felt like you’re sort of on display.”
When the Salkind Center was built, students suddenly had many more places they could go, causing a further division among grades as underclassmen would often gather in the Blues Lounge while upperclassmen would go to the Old Library. “When you have options [the student body] fractures in a different way,” they said.
When asked about the attitude towards underclassmen in the Old Library during their time at Urban, Gersick said “It’s the same sh*t that you see today,” adding that “seniors would be clustered in the Old Library and then looking at these random sophomores, wondering what they [were] doing here. Do they think they’re cool?”
Riley Maddox, 11th grade dean and math teacher, understands underclassmen sitting in the Old Library as a lack of practice with Urban. “[Due to COVID-19,] 9th and 10th graders have never really been at Urban,” he said.
Much like Maddox, Charlotte Worsley, assistant head for student life and 9th grade dean, also suggests this shift is due to a lack of time at Urban. “I think traditions that are organic aren’t [spoken] rules that get handed down,” she said. Worsley is speaking to the fact that there was never any set rule that the Old Library was a senior space, students just learned from experience.
One freshman notes that the whole notion of the Old Library as a solely senior space is a bit ridiculous. This freshman will remain anonymous as they did not put their name in the google form they are quoted from. “I feel like the seniors want to be seniors so bad and they are talking about the unspoken rule of the Old Library too much,” they said, adding that “we get it you don’t need to yell at us when we are there for ONE SECOND about to go into our classrooms; we have classes around the Old Library too.” The freshman continues to talk about the attitude of the seniors, saying that “the seniors were much nicer in orientation, something changed… and it wasn’t us.”
Miren Creswell ‘25 disagrees with the anonymous freshman. “I feel like it makes sense,” she said. “It’s an Urban tradition, and obviously when we’re seniors, we’re going to get that space.”
Many have noticed a changing dynamic between the under and upperclassmen in terms of spaces as well as general attitude. “It’s less just ‘go away child’ and more just like ‘hey I respect you as a person,’” said Philo Judson ‘22.
Worsley agrees with Judson. “Everybody is so much more welcoming of each other. I have never seen the juniors and seniors be quite so open,” she said.
Many seniors, on the other hand, are frustrated by this sudden change in attitude. “It’s just kind of irritating that with COVID-19,” Ivy Armstrong ‘22 said, “it feels like the underclassmen have no respect for the seniors and upperclassmen in general. And it’s just rude.” Armstrong also adds that “we’re all super inclusive, which I really like about Urban, but we’ve worked our way up to being seniors, so we should get to have these spaces that are solely for our grade.”
Josie Brenner ‘22 agrees with Armstrong and wishes to preserve the Old Library as an upperclassmen space. “I do believe that the Old Library in the past has traditionally been a place for upperclassmen to gather as a stress reliever and an escape,” she said. “It can sometimes be a bit frustrating for seniors to hear that underclassmen don’t really care.”
In contrast, Maddox urges the student body to think beyond the construct of division and resist the hierarchy of spaces. “Urban’s got a long culture of resistance and skepticism,” Maddox said, adding that “I’ve always encouraged the nines to rattle the cages of the elevens and twelves, but it never really works. Usually, they’re too afraid.”