It’s 8 p.m. on a Thursday night and Amanda DiRosa is trying to study in her room on Johnson Hall’s first floor. There’s a midterm tomorrow, but DiRosa can’t concentrate because her neighbors are making too much noise. There were "people, just running—running up and down the hall playing stupid games," DiRosa said.
She attempts to study in the downstairs lounge, but it’s the same scene. There were people screaming and being loud there too, DiRosa said. Then she tries a study room, to no avail. There’s just no respite from the cacophony of screams and giggles. Eventually, she just gives up.
"By the time I got to the end, all I could do is skim because I couldn’t concentrate" DiRosa said.
DiRosa said the noise level reached that night is not uncommon for the hall. It’s just another example of what some Oswego State students are calling "The Johnson Effect."Senior Darrick Fuller, a former Laker Leader, defines "The Johnson Effect" as, "cliques, immaturity and the 13th grade. There is very little chance for growth there."
He said that a freshmen-only dormitory deprives first-year students of chances to learn by observing upperclassmen. Fuller also blamed Johnson Hall’s institutional structure, which he sees as promoting too many of its own and neglecting of new ideas.
"A lot of the R.M.’s (resident mentors) of Johnson have only experienced Johnson," Fuller said. "They just stay in Johnson therefore perpetuating the Johnson effect more, and more, and more."
But students living in Johnson are speaking out to defend their program. Johnson resident Patrick Cavlin said he wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
"I hear Johnson being called a day care a lot," Cavlin said. "I think that’s a misleading term. Even though it’s more structured than the other residence halls, it’s not the very rigid structure that everyone thinks of in the day care sense. It is a good place to live…you do have your noisy neighbors, but every wing is different."
Richard Kolenda, interim director of Residence Life and Housing, said that Johnson Hall is offered to freshmen as tool to assist the transition into college.
"Johnson Hall is only part of a larger first-year experience on this campus," Kolenda said. "We have 1,350 freshmen, but only 240-250 live in Johnson, and they self-select themselves into that; it’s not a requirement."
He said the idea came about in the ‘90s when other campuses began developing first-year programs because of positive research on the topic.
"The research has shown two major things," Kolenda said. "The first is that the average GPAs of students in first-year experiences are higher than students in traditional settings… and students who go through first-year experience are more involved in the campus."
SUNY campuses with first-year residential experiences like Johnson Hall currently include Plattsburgh, Potsdam, Geneseo and Buffalo, among others.
"It’s all about the research," said Jay Button, the faculty master of Johnson Hall. "First year programs have been shown to be beneficial to those involved."
Indeed, some sophomores who have moved on from the Johnson program said their transition really has benefited. Former Johnsonites Anthony Castellano and Ian Krywe said they were genuinely helped by their experience in Johnson.
"I thought it was very inviting…they came arms open and took us in," said Castellano, an English major. "It was a great break into the college world."
Castellano and Krywe, who room together in Onondaga Hall, present a common case. Many exiting Johnson residents muster a group of friends and migrate to West Campus for their sophomore year. Many residents describe the move from Johnson to West Campus as "a whole new world."
But that whole new world has been known to get them into trouble said Onondaga Resident Assistant Leah Wersebe. According to her, a significant portion of Onondaga’s new residents are former Johnson freshmen.
"A major problem with a lot of the residents who moved in from Johnson are suitemate and roommate problems," Wersebe said. "It’s a very different atmosphere than Johnson and they seem to be having trouble adjusting."
Lindsey Gordon, a Lakeside R.A., said that the Johnson program leaves freshmen "absolutely not prepared to move to West Campus, where it’s kind of like the party dorm. When you don’t have an actual authentic freshmen experience living in a residence hall with other people who are not freshmen, it restricts your ability to cope with that kind of a situation."
However, Castellano and Krywe say they needed to the Johnson experience to prepare for their transition to West Campus.
"It absolutely prepared me to live here," Castellano said. "If I came here first year, I’d be freaking out and I’d be more nervous certainly. They take you by the hand in Johnson and give you a good overview."
Despite Castellano’s experience, other former Johnsonites don’t feel the same way.
Sophomore cinema studies major Allain Daigle, who used to live in Johnson, said "The building was very nice, but the program was somewhat lacking…it was very much like the 13th grade."
Another ex-resident, junior finance major Jeff Stevens, said that while the program does have different benefits, "it incubates high school thought for an extra year."
Johnson Hall Director Trenton Barry claims that the program does work to build autonomy for its residents.
"That we work ourselves out of a job. We’re right here for you in the beginning…as the year goes on we take a step back and they come to us, and by the end of their semesters here they are ready to go."
For now, debate on the Johnson Effect and what should be done about it is still raging. It has managed to spawn its own jargon as residents and former residents are universally known as "Johnson babies," while the building itself is known as "Hotel Johnson" (for its cleanliness), but allusions to kindergartens, day-camps, and nurseries are also common.
Still, with a multitude of triples and freshmen signing up in droves, the program shows no signs of slowing down.