“I hear Lister Hall is dirty,” I’ve heard people say. “Isn’t there bed bugs and STDs and loud parties all the time?! I could never live there.”
These assumptions carry absolutely no weight; and the stereotypes about the University of Alberta’s Lister Hall that do carry weight are unfortunately over-exaggerated, or else they only give the tiniest portion of a picture of what life is like there; Lister Hall is something that can only be understood from the inside of the walls, and not from the outside.
From the tale of the Henday Hall ghost, to the infamous Henday Hall riots, to the fact that back in the early days of the residence, Kiss once played a show in the Lister cafeteria, the rooms, common areas, and the building structure itself is fully-loaded with a rich student-centred history. The residence itself has existed since 1961 and years of cohorts have come and gone since then, but all of them have been continually building something grander than simply living under a roof in order to go to school. When walking from the cafeteria to your tower, floor murals painted by Lister Hall residents of the past adorn the hallways’ cement walls; they are a reminder that what has come before you, and who has come before you, are a part of your identity as a “Lister Hall resident”. These people paved the way of one of Canada’s largest student-run residences. They are the people who created the tower events. They are the people who saw big, radical changes and the summer of love. Those people lived under the same roof as you!
Lister works hard to pass on its history – the Students’ Association in the residence has an Archives Committee where stories, legends and lore are passed down to current students and allow you to feel less like a U of A student and more like a Hogwarts Student. Secrets, funny stories of outrage and intrigue and the wildest parties imaginable are all a part of tradition.
Lister Hall is a place where community leaders are born, and a hub of endless support of its “own kind”; Lister Hall residents have gone onto be local politicians as well as student politicians. They got their start working to foster student life, community-building and stewardship within their own home base, and they have continued to do so in their families, communities, and in the global community as well. You could never gain the kind of experience that Lister student leaders gain, anywhere else. Lister Hall student leaders are the den mothers and fathers of their floormates; they are the planners, instigators, troubleshooters, crisis interventionists, and voices of their community. They’re the go-to people that everyone knows. They make differences and they manage meetings and they often bend over backwards to ensure that everyone is healthy, happy and enjoying themselves. And they do all of this while focusing on their own academics. They are the heart and lungs of each floor and each tower, and they do so because they love to do it. It’s no wonder that Lister Hall residents support these student leaders when they go onto do even more outside of those four walls they live in; it’s because they’re supporting a family member.
Lister Hall residents are like family. Lister itself is like a small town – a town filled with 18-20 year olds who govern themselves, speak for themselves, are forced to be responsible for themselves, and conversely, are forced to be watchful and responsible for each other. If Lister doesn’t teach you how to live in harmony, nothing will. Lister will stomp out of you, the need to complain about food or noise or a dirty bathroom. One poisoned experience poisons all experiences. It is a true lesson in getting along with others and a true lesson in exactly how to build a community from the ground up. Lister Hall residents know better than anyone how it is to leave someone behind and what it feels like for an entire community of thousands when someone does get left behind. It leaves an un-fillable hole, even when you don’t actually know the person. Lister Hall community is created when everyone is just that: a community, united.
Before I lived in Lister, I had never met so many people who loved life as much as fellow residents did. I knew friendly people who talked with absolutely everyone; I knew people who did everything they could to promote stewardship and volunteer initiatives to help better community in general, not just in Lister; I knew people who were quiet and kept to themselves, but made all the difference in the world just by being present; I met people who, for better or for worse, are completely unique from anyone I’d ever met before. Listerites take what may be considered frivolous by the general population, very seriously. Like Dodgeball, for example. And perogy night in the cafeteria. These things are simple pleasures that meant the world to all residents. It was a simple time, being 18 and away from home for the first time. And these simple pleasures made the difference between life’s greatest joys and memories, and stress and homesickness.
Lister changed me; Lister helped make me a better community member, a more tolerant person, a person who better understood diversity, a rural or international student experience, and the difference between complex and simple pleasures. Lister reminded me of how many ways you can love someone, and how many different kinds of people can find a place in the world together just by spending eight months in the same building. Lister taught me how to be a woman, how to take care of myself, and how to understand other people in a way that I wouldn’t have seen possible. It was sometimes emotional and sometimes difficult, and sometimes being bombarded and invaded constantly by my peer group was maddening and all I wanted to do was be alone, or cry, or wander off somewhere. But if I did wander off, I always always knew to come back.
Few feelings can describe how it felt to spend that stressful period before Christmas with just your friends and a stack of textbooks, studying until the wee hours surrounded by others who were just as stressed and working towards the same goals as you were; and few feelings can describe that odd sensation of loneliness and displacement coming back after two weeks away for Christmas, and having to readjust to everything again. And few sadnesses were as great as crying and hugging my roommate goodbye as she packed all her things and drove back to Calgary shortly before I returned to Jasper for a long, lonely rainy summer without my new family. Unless you’ve lived there, you can never understand how it feels to be a Lister resident. And all the rumours about Chlamydia, bed bugs and how ‘dirty’ it is, don’t justify how it really feels to be a part of such a grand spectrum of people, such a diverse and loving and supportive community.
Having lived in Lister Hall in my first year (and second year, but my second year is irrelevant here), the way it was and the joys I shared while living there back in 2004 were insurmountably wonderful. They were wonderful not because of what Lister ‘could’ be to “better” the first year experience but rather, because of what Lister was back then.
When you have an emotional attachment to something, it is difficult to see changes being made to compromise that which you hold dear from the way you remember it to be. Lister is a building that, since the early 1960s, has held many, many memories. It’s a group of buildings that harbours its own history, culture, and even ‘celebrity’ culture. Lister was home to me for two years; one year was great and the other year was awful. And I wouldn’t take back either of them for any reason. I firmly believe I am a better, more adventurous, stronger person because I lived in the Lister that was.