The Vanderbilt Hustler | GUEST EDITORIAL: You should be living at McGill next year, and here’s why

The McGill Project is an artist colony, a safe space and the home of the alternative scene you didn’t know Vandy had. It’s the only dormitory that seceded from Vanderbilt University, and it’s known colloquially as “where the freaks are” (see the infamous 2004 Nashville scene article). Technically speaking, it’s a Vibrant learning community founded on the ideals of creative expression, inclusive community and free thought. At its heart is a collective of welcoming people dedicated to creativity and the arts.

McGill is more than just a dormitory – it’s a communal space where people from all majors and academic disciplines can pursue creative pursuits, whether or not they normally do so in their classes.

In the 1970s, McGill said autonomy from Vanderbilt University. As such, we have a unique capacity for self-governance. We allow alcohol in about half of our common areas (for adults); we made sure that all bathrooms on all but one floor were neutral; we display murals and artwork throughout the building; we allow students of any gender to be roommates; and, every time we host an event, we open it up to the whole community, not just individual floors.

Each month we host McGill Coffees, open mic nights that feature music, comedy, dance, poetry, performance art and the iconic Munchie Mart song. We have McGill Hours, a weekly lecture series that covers social activism, academic research, self-care, and everything in between. At the end of the year, we present the creative works of each member of the project in our spring showcase. Along with these events, we offer tea parties, holiday parties, craft events, service opportunities, and prom, among other programs. On a full moon, members of the community gather on the lawn of the elders to release tension with warm cries known as the “Cathartic Scream”.

There is no one way to pursue the arts at McGill. You have carte blanche to focus your energy as you see fit. Whether you’re looking for a quiet space to write, free art materials, people to listen to your new Spotify single, a laid-back group to paint with, a hands-on event teaching you the basics of drag makeup, a gallery space to show off your work hook, we’ve got you covered.

Residents of the McGill Project in the lobby of the building (from left to right): Josh Villatuya, Gabrielle Blackburn, Philip Gubbins, Annie Mullins, Isabella Calzolano, Kelly Morgan, Ian O’Neill, Rosa Brooks photographed on December 8, 2019 (Photo courtesy of Kelly Morgan)

We filled our community spaces with art supplies, board games, video games, televisions and musical instruments. We have a community library and a community PA system. We have hung paintings in the hallways and our main staircase features an interpretive fresco of Dante’s Inferno. We also have a system called “lobbying”. If you have food, clothes, or anything else you don’t want, just leave it in the lobby and other residents will come to claim it. Every few days new things are given. Residents send photos of pets in the group chat, study together in class, and cook desserts for the community. We love pranks and in the winter we’re known for our iconic snowmen. Anyone who wants to live in a single gets one, and we also have doubles available. The building actually has some of the largest singles on campus, some of which include not one, but two closets.

What is most important to us, however, is that McGill offers a college experience that deviates from the standard Vanderbilt model. The project allows people to cultivate hobbies and interests outside of academics, and it has always had a way of intentionally creating space for unique perspectives and diverse talents. Community is naturally uplifting; it embraces the weird, the niche and the quirky – you don’t find that in many other places.

Jeri Katz performs at Café McGill on October 22, 2021 (Photo courtesy of Kelly Morgan). (Kelly Morgan)

Each of us has found a family in this building. “Living at McGill was the first time I really felt like I had a home on campus,” said McGill President Kelly Morgan. “I still remember walking around the building, how I couldn’t help but smile and think to myself, ‘Oh my god, I’ve found my people.'”

“I am happy and proud to have called McGill home for the past three years! commented Brigitte Jia, Learning Coordinator. “The project is so much more than just a dorm, and the community is a huge source of support for me on campus. I’ve definitely found a place to belong here.

“The community is naturally uplifting and no shortage of cathartic opportunities,” added Adanna Brown, Director of Recruitment. “Nowhere else on campus have I felt more fully included, safe and appreciated.

Everyone here feels comfortable asking each other for help because we know the people here will always support us. We make it a priority to take care of each other.

McGill matters. Many of us come to Vanderbilt expecting the narrow social experience sold to us by teachers, TV shows, and recruiting brochures. However, we arrive on campus and realize that making friends is harder than it looks. When your interests or identities don’t fit the Vandy mold, it’s easy to feel isolated and disconnected from others. McGill strives to be a home for anyone in this situation, who is still looking for a home in Vandy, anyone who wants a community they can rely on. If you want a dorm of a hundred people, not a thousand, a dorm filled with people who share your passions and welcome your quirkiness, McGill is the home for you.

McGill applications are live on housing portal until February 25.

Editor’s note: Members of the McGill Board contributed to this article, including Hustler editor-in-chief Jessica Barker and former opinion editor and current writer Miquéla Thorton.

Members of the McGill Board: Jessica Barker (Secretary), Adanna Brown (Director of Recruitment), Alice Ding (Director of Programming), Brigitte Jia (Learning Coordinator), Ruochen Li (Director of Alumni Relations), Jessica Mo (Chair of the Advertising), Kelly Morgan (Chair), Jadyn Rodgers (Director of Community Standards), Miquéla Thornton (Creative Arts Coordinator), Sydney Stewart (CFO)

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