- The Washington Times - Friday, September 6, 2002

WACO, Texas —The freshmen have landed. This year's first-year Baylor students journeyed to Waco from alien lands this week. They parked their spacecraft mostly sport utility vehicles, vans, and pickups around the residence halls. Then they hauled in their possessions and set up dorm rooms.

The men, of course, from Mars.

The women, naturally, from Venus.

It didn't take a telescope to observe the obvious differences between the two.

The male beings (whom we'll call "guys") carried big stuff with lots of cords. Computers. Stereo equipment. PlayStations.

The female beings (we'll call them "girls") gathered up armfuls of clothes. Shower caddies. Posters. Curtain rods.

Hypothesis?

When given the same amount of habitation space, Mars and Venus dwell differently.

Heather Hernandez, a freshman from San Antonio, was balancing several boxes and knickknacks, while her father, David, stacked three larger boxes onto a dolly. What was inside? A computer, clothes and shower stuff, she said.

But the most important job, hanging the curtains in the dorm room, already had been taken care of. Heather and her new roommate had made sure to coordinate colors, including the shade of the curtains, before moving in.

That was the priority, she said, "so it doesn't feel like a prison."

Ditto for Megan Mears, who was moving into North Russell Hall with the help of her mother, Becky. They had driven from Colorado in a van packed full of the essentials: lamps, stuffed animals, shelving, Audrey Hepburn posters and Mardi Gras masks (for the wall, Megan clarified, not for Mardi Gras-themed parties).

She had started buying stuff for her dorm room a year ago, she said. Her mother occasionally picked out items from catalogs to furnish her home away from home.

But that is nothing unusual for Venuslike dorm dwellers, said Marianne May, a Baylor junior and community leader for North Russell Hall.

"This is kind of like the grown-up version of playing house," Miss May said. "This is the first time you get to pick everything that goes in your room. The homey aspect is a big deal for girls."

Talking to roommates ahead of time, coordinating bedding, wall decorations and who will bring what is of utmost importance to girls before they move in, she said.

So is creating a homelike feeling. Hence the plethora of posters, picture frames, cute curtains, bedspreads and rugs.

"Girls really do want to express who they are as an individual through the way they decorate," Miss May said.

It's almost comforting to re-create home in a dorm room.

"It takes away from the anxiety if they feel like 'this is a part of me, that I'm not just going away to camp but can actually [make a home] in the way I set up the room,'" she said.

But over at Penland Hall, a guys' dorm, the Martians weren't thinking that much about it.

Brett Stuebinger and his father, Lon, trekked to Baylor from Littleton, Colo., in an SUV. Its contents were pretty typical for a freshman guy: clothes, TV, computer, laundry stuff, linens and one poster.

On one of his last trips from the car, he grabbed the finishing touches Twizzlers, goldfish crackers and an assortment of sodas.

Brett had talked to his new roommate, he said, but coordinate colors? Get a life.

In another section of the parking lot, Matt Dipzinski was helping his brother, Anthony, from Hallsville, Texas, move in.

Matt was pulling a computer out of a green Dodge pickup. The stereo already had gone in by 8:20 a.m., as had lots of clothes and a few cowboy hats.

Where were his furnishings?

"Well, he brought a comforter but not too many pictures," Matt said. "My mom's going to Wal-Mart later."

That's the way it usually is for guys, said Daniel Ach, a community leader in Penland Hall: low maintenance.

"Whereas for girls, it's important to establish as much of a 'home' as possible, guys grow and adapt into the space so it gradually feels like home," he said.

Priorities for guys are usually "toys" like stereo equipment, computers, digital video disc players and video games. It's not unusual for an entertainment center set up to be tops on their "to do" list.

"It just reflects their lifestyle," he said.

Freshman guys usually contact their roommates, he said, but definitely not to match color schemes. More to find out who is bringing what.

"I've talked with a few guys already, and sometimes they don't even communicate that," he said. "If they don't know who's bringing what, they either both bring it or neither bring it."

If two guys move into a dorm without an essential furnishing? No sweat, just send Mom to the store later.

It's no secret that Mars and Venus outfit their dorm rooms differently, said Daryl Nagel, assistant manager at Target in Waco. The Waco store is designated as a "back-to-college" store, and their marketing and sales efforts reflect that.

According to a study by 360 Youth/Harris Interactive, college students spent about $5 billion in 2001 on bedding, carpets, shower caddies, beanbag chairs and bulletin boards. Despite the shaky economy, more than 15 million students heading for college are opening their wallets (or their parents' wallets). They're heading to stores like Kmart and Target, which have zeroed in on dormitory decorating in a big way.

"The guys seem to focus on furniture more and basic necessities like plastic containers and crates," Mr. Nagel said. "The girls will come in a lot looking for domestic stuff to decorate like curtains and bedspreads."

So who spends more, Mars or Venus?

"I think generally girls do. They just tend to buy more stuff," Mr. Nagel said. "Guys' stuff is more expensive, but overall, sales are still higher for the young ladies."

So girls buy more stuff, haul more stuff and decorate with more stuff. It makes sense, then, that it takes them a lot longer to set up their dorm rooms.

Miss May said when she was a freshman moving down from Minnesota, she and her parents started the moving process at 8 a.m. The whole process lasted all day. By "whole process," she meant getting completely settled organizing her possessions, making her bed and running to Wal-Mart for last-minute stuff "to fill in the cracks." Basically, setting up home.

Not so for the Martians over at Penland Hall.

"They just move everything in and set it up later," Mr. Ach said. "I'd say they're done when everything's hooked up and in its place. Or whenever they have a place to sleep."

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