When I was a freshman, I was a proud resident of New South 4, home to Jack the Bulldog. Jack was the floor pet and we all loved playing with him and JJ, then the mascot-in-training. The dogs, however, could not take the stairs, which is why I have a particularly acute memory of an irate Father Steck sitting in the New South Courtyard, justifiably mad that he could not bring the dogs back up to his apartment because both of the New South elevators were broken, which they remained for over a day.
Two years later, as a junior trying to sell this university that I so love to my friends still in high school, and I’m frequently presented with the question: “What are the facilities like?” The answer is always some version of: “It’s complicated.”
Before I really get into this, I should make it clear that this is a serious issue. We live on and around steep slopes, which present insurmountable obstacles for many of our disabled classmates. There’s a reason we call campus “the Hilltop.” Elevators and the modern technology they accompany present a way for our fellow Hoyas for whom stairs are not navigable to enjoy the same access the rest of us do. Failing to provide such alternatives leaves us not only ethically suspect but also seriously non-compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). With this in mind, let’s take a look.
The state of elevators can be explained pretty equally by two theories: an old-building/new-building dichotomy, and the heavy-duty wear and tear we inflict upon them. On the one hand, you have New South, where you can travel in style at a less-than-glamorous two miles per hour as 45 continuous seconds of urine-smell molests your nostrils; on the other, you have the beautiful ICC elevators, whose mirrored ceilings provide a great way for me to get my hair did when rushing to class. Don’t judge. This is pretty easily explicable in terms of the above theories: New South was built in the ‘60s and serves as a residence hall for 400-odd freshmen who use the elevator for sex when their roommate is asleep. In contrast, the ICC was constructed much more recently, and since nobody sleeps in the classrooms, students can have sex there instead of the elevators. The only fault I can find with the ICC is that the path to the freight elevator is frequently obstructed by gloriously inattentive patrons of More Uncommon Grounds.
A similar story can be found around campus. New buildings, which are predominantly non-residential, have nice elevators that remind me of a German train station: they’re models of punctuality, efficiency and cleanliness. In older buildings, I’m reminded more of a Sicilian bus stop. I love my ancestors but, much like a Darnall elevator, they were not known for their kindness to travelers. Harbin elevators break down consistently, Village C elevators have a penchant for stopping on every floor until maintenance fixes them again, and the poor residents of VCE 10 have only one elevator that goes to their floor. This sounds fine, until you realize that there are two elevators for every other floor, and there is no way to call just the one that goes to the tenth floor.
So what’s the solution? Well, to a certain extent the problem is fixing itself, as newer, shinier buildings are being built on campus. For all the pain that the residents of Henle have endured this semester and will endure in the semesters to come, I bet you the Northeast Triangle will have efficient elevators. We’ll sully them with some combination of alcohol and bodily fluids soon enough, but imagine how shiny they’ll be on move-in day! Add-ons and renovations to buildings count too: Healy Hall’s elevator is tiny—I’ve seen a woman in a large wheelchair try and fail to fit inside—but the Maguire’s much newer elevator is large and lets you out right by Riggs Library.
I don’t envy the task the university has in making this hill ADA-compliant, but in a way, their task is poetic. Perhaps my favorite thing about elevators is that they are their own metaphor. With a bit of attention and slightly less pee, they could shoot straight to the top floor of our otherwise totally perfect dorms. But as they stand, there’s nowhere to go but up, because the down button is broken, and maintenance is busy.