Elevators on campus: A story that uplifts

Jyotsna Naidu/The Miscellany News.

Riding the elevator is a beautiful and mundane process. It’s not often that a group of strangers are wedged in a six by six foot box with, temporarily at least, no escape. “What floor?” one asks, awaiting a response. The elevator is a warp in the time space continuum. Even if you ride it at different times, you  only see the same people riding the elevator and never see these people outside of the elevator. These elevator riders are like elementary school teachers: they do not exist outside of the world you experience with them. 

Local efforts by The Miscellany News highlight the cultural significance of elevators in “Need a lift? Vassar’s ten sexiest elevators revealed,” and “Fun ways to pass the time while waiting for the Jewett elevator.” Elevators have also gained recognition with representation in pop culture: the iconic setting in “The Shining” with an elevator behind the creepy twins, the climax of the sequel in “Charlie and the Glass Elevator,” the force driving the story arc in many rom-coms, questioning an elevator’s worthiness to Thor’s mighty hammer Mjölnir, and more. Clearly in pop culture elevators lift plots to new heights, so why do we not recognize their value in everyday life? 

Each Vassar elevator is different. For this article, I rode many elevators for several minutes in addition to talking to their riders. Here is a non-exhaustive list of what people did on their phones in the elevators I rode on: listened to music loud enough that I could hear, clicked through Instagram stories faster than the speed of light, talked on the phone loudly to compensate for poor reception, turned their phone off and on again and texted.

Unfortunately, several dorms lack passenger elevators depriving such dorms’ residents and visitors alike of these unique experiences.

“Is there even an elevator?” questioned Davison resident Charlotte Tanner-Morash ’26 when visiting Raymond, a dorm famously known for its lack of a passenger elevator. While the Davison elevator may be slow, Tanner-Morash acknowledged that it is at least there.

Other elevators brought anticipation and adventure. Pooja Huded ’25 lives on the ninth (and top) floor of Jewett. “Many fire alarms happen and yes we climb down nine flights of stairs and sometimes back up those nine flights when the elevator wasn’t working right after a fire alarm,” Huded said in a written correspondence. 

Another Jewett resident narrowly escaped death last Halloweekend after jumping up and down in the elevator.

“[The elevator] freaked out. It just stopped. Then we hit one and we went down to one and then [the elevator] reset.”

Despite this harrowing tale, I was more afraid to ride the Noyes elevator given its rusty, casket-like demeanor. Brave enough to enter the elevator, I observed inscribed graffiti that read trapped here and the years of the event. Later I returned to Jewett and  took notice of someone who, after clicking the elevator button, left and went to the bathroom. But why? 

“I thought it’d take some time to come up. It usually takes about two to three minutes,” an anonymous resident said.

In this story I expected the elevator to be a setting—but never a character! Yes, on the surface the elevator presents as an uncontrollable setting we must experience but never engage with: being late to class, stopping at the wrong floor (Jewett), horrendous smells (Main). But clearly, inspired by the actions of the aforementioned resident, our elevator interactions demonstrate a personal engagement that gives character to each elevator.

For instance, the Main elevator has become the Party elevator. The architectural design of the elevator lends itself to this:reflective surfaces embodying a ’70s disco, with handrails to drunkenly lean against. But, it is Main residents who are to be credited with personifying the Main elevator by ripping off panels from the siding to become souvenirs, gifting occasional objects—small ball, rubber chicken, balloon—to the floor to memorialize weekend adventures and keeping alive the lingering smell of alcohol with mysterious spills on the floor that people nervously avoid. 

Intentionally manifesting the character of the elevator can be transformational to your elevator experience. With enough manifestation, the Bridge’s frighteningly rickety elevator ride with a strange tarp in lieu of a ceiling becomes a fun science adventure with a unique backdrop.

But watching is the line of engagement on public transportation—no eye contact, no talking to strangers or friends. You keep to yourself and keep safe. On the other hand, Vassar elevators demand a social experience, where engagement brings opportunity. 

Take most students’ first experience with Vassar elevators: move-in day. The burdens of heavy luggage and college anxieties vanish when you enter the elevator. Greeted by House Team members who help you with your belongings, the prospect of a new life ahead of the elevator doors both calms and excites you. We do not enter a new stage of life tired and out of breath from stairs—no, we enter with resolve, confident to approach the world, or at least your dorm and roommate, ahead. During next year’s move-in, be sure to tell the Class of 2027 to first thank the elevator—that is, for the select dorm residents that have a working elevator.

Living in close proximity to an elevator has changed me and my world. To be able to tap the elevator V-card reader with speed, I bought a stick-on phone wallet for fast access to my V-card. I also wear slides more regularly, as I am not scared of tripping on them on the stairs because I’m taking the elevator. No one I interviewed had an answer to how the elevator changed their world. Perhaps they will discover so in time. 

 

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