The weather up here

Edgar Walters

   There’s been a lot of buzz about the size of this year’s freshman class. Roughly 8,000 students large, it may be the largest incoming group of students that the University has ever seen. What’s less discussed is that, given a worldwide trend of increasing height, the class of 2016 might rate as the tallest incoming class, too.

Well, maybe not. The hypothesis that Americans in particular have continued to get taller in recent years is debated. But one fact stands uncontested: in the past 150 years, the average height of people in industrialized nations has increased by approximately 10 centimeters . That means the average UT student is taller now than he or she was between 1904 and 1960, when nearly 50 of the buildings on campus were constructed . As a person of considerable height, specifically 6’7”, I raise the question: is the University doing enough to meet the increasingly stretched-out needs of its students?


Let me backtrack by acknowledging how ridiculous it must sound to complain about a tall person’s specific “needs.” How on Earth could I, a man benefitting from excellent views at concerts and ease for reaching high places, ask for special treatment? On behalf of my fellow vertically endowed colleagues, I offer several reasons.


First, I invite any incredulous reader to imagine the August afternoon last year when I moved into my eighth floor Jester West room. After several sweaty trips to and from the car, I triumphantly sat down on my just-long-enough bed, undressed, wrapped myself in a towel and headed down the hall for a shower. Picture, if you will, my finding a shower head just 4’10” off the ground, barely reaching my navel.


Although I survived the year without much serious injury — just one strained back on a morning of particular inflexibility during my daily contortions in the stall — the situation was far from ideal. It’s astounding that any residence hall would have showers so low, but especially Jester West, the largest dorm on campus built just over 40 years ago, not 400.


As the University gradually moves forward with its plan to build a new residence hall on Creekside’s current site, plenty of possible accomodation options surface: handicap access, inclusive rooming options for gender-nonconforming students, etc. Let’s also make sure the tall population isn’t lost in very plain sight. Water pipes should be at least seven feet off the ground (unlike those on, say, the second floor of Blanton Residence Hall, which at 6’4” are perfect for terrorizing my unsuspecting scalp). Paranoia takes over as tall students learn to avoid other silent predators, known to students of typical height as “doorways,” which lie in wait 6’5” off the floor in buildings like Carothers Residence Hall. Plainly said, such door frames present a clear and present danger to our mental health. 


Suffering due to excessive height isn’t just an issue with on-campus housing, either. I often commiserate with other very tall students in large classes, bonding via annoyed but sympathetic eye contact as we struggle to rearrange our limbs to fit the tiny constraints of lecture hall seating. Painter 4.42, for example, offers just 33” of legroom, about what you would expect in an economy class airline seat. The simple requirement of extended lectures held in PAI 4.42 was enough to discourage me from any aspirations to become a physics major.


None of these suggested improvements to future buildings would be drastic. Examples abound. Airplanes are often a nightmare for tall people, but they don’t have to be. Rather than relegating passengers to the horror of numb legs for a transatlantic flight, many airlines relocate their tallest and potentially unhappiest customers to the emergency exit row, where they are afforded the luxury of actually having enough room to rest their feet on the floor. Similarly, architects could easily design lecture halls with such considerations as flexible aisle seating, allowing the longest of students to comfortably angle their legs to extend a little bit into the open space.


For all their advantages, tall people on this campus face an obstacle course under-appreciated by those of average height. The next time you mistake my downward gaze for condescension, look up and understand it’s a glower, probably signaling my physical discomfort in adjusting to the short-sightedness of the world. 


Walters is a Plan II major from Houston.