Freshman move-in day on the sixth floor of ASU’s Manzanita Hall was a reunion of friends who’d never met.
“That’s my boy,” Sammie Hall, a freshman from Kentucky, hollered at his roommate, Bryan Williams, a Southern California native.
Williams and Hall slapped hands as they crossed outside Manzanita on Wednesday morning. They talked like close friends who share confidences. It was only the second time they had stood next to each other. But the roommates had chatted together, and with many of their neighbors, for months using Facebook, the social networking Web site.
The traditional college move-in day, filled with anxiety, is fast becoming a relic.
In its place, thousands of this year’s Arizona State University freshmen built an online social scene during the summer. Dorm residents organized parties, shared moving advice and got an early glimpse of what their neighbors look like.
For the guys on Manzanita’s sixth floor, Facebook helped confirm who was bringing video games.
“It sort of spoiled the mystery, but I’m so excited cause all my roommates are gamers,” Williams said of meeting his neighbors early. “It’s gonna be crackin’.”
Facebook conversations don’t have awkward pauses, Hall said, making it a good place to talk to girls.
Stephanie Eminowicz’s roommate is already working to set her up on a date.
Eminowicz, a freshman from Glendale, said she and her roommate first talked on the phone, but mainly communicated on MySpace pages.
“They already know each other’s names, what they like. They’re making dates with friends,” said Connie Roland, Eminowicz’s mom.
Students said they use both Facebook and MySpace, the nation’s largest social networks. While MySpace has millions more members, Facebook claims to have 85 percent of the market at universities.
Until last September, Facebook only allowed college students to join, and undergrads remain some of its most avid users. The site creates a sense of community at each school by requiring members to provide a university e-mail address to join a university’s network.
The Web sites have been criticized because members, particularly young college students, often post photos of themselves scantly clad and drinking alcohol. The Facebook group for Manzanita’s fifthfloor residents invites “those of us who will be passing out on the 5th floor of manzi at the end of the night.”
Social networking sometimes keeps students apart.
A handful of parents called ASU this summer to change their student’s dorm assignment after checking the roommate on Facebook, said Michael Coakley, the university’s residential life director.
“Since the contract is really with the student, we ask to speak with the student, and then we listen to what the student’s concerns are,” Coakley said. ASU officials try to accommodate parents’ requests.
Such complaints have increased gradually the past couple years, said Diana Bejarano-Medina, a residential life spokeswoman.
ASU appears to endorse Facebook, at least unofficially. The students hired to manage the dorms regularly post comments on the group sites to communicate with their freshmen residents.
Out of about 7,400 freshmen living on ASU’s Tempe campus, 2,486 have registered with Facebook, the site shows.
“It’s a good thing,” Medina said, “at least it can be.”
Cathy Small, a Northern Arizona University anthropology professor, agrees.
Dorm residents are doing the same things on Facebook as they have long done on their front doors: express themselves, she said. Hallways are still a mosaic of pictures, magazine covers and posters that students hang for decoration.
Pages on MySpace and Facebook are only an updated version of the same thing, Small said.
“They’re about the values of undergraduate culture, which have to do with informality, sociability, freedom, individuality,” she said. “There’s not a picture of their parents on their dorm door. There’s a picture of them partying.”
Small made national headlines after she spent 2002 posing as an NAU student to observe college life up close. She took a full class load and even lived in a dorm.
This semester, Small is teaching a class on the anthropology of “everyday life,” and students’ first assignment will be analyzing pictures on Facebook.
The comments ASU students post in public are largely warm toward each other. However, some are suspicious when they can’t find someone online.
Dan Coburn, a freshman from Portland, Ore., met two of his neighbors through San Pablo Hall’s Facebook group. But his roommate doesn’t have a profile on Facebook or MySpace. The roommate might be an anti-technology zealot, Coburn said he fears. Why else wouldn’t an 18-year-old have a profile?
“It’s really kind of scary,” he said.