College dorms are curious institutions. Students are often thrown together and expected to live with a total stranger in sardine-like quarters next to hundreds of other students also trying to cope. Usually it all works out. A dorm becomes home... your roommate and friends become family. But then comes the end of the semester... and unlike home, we're all told to pack our bags and we're tossed out. Life begins anew that next semester... curiously familiar... but faces and often rooms, have changed.
Dorms are also curious in that they have a life larger than any one person who's lived or worked there.... especially a dorm with the mystique Pierpont had. Pierpont opened in the mid-60s.... almost 40 years ago. Few stay four years but if they had, that would be the complete turnover of residents ten times. Who can tie that all that history together?
As for myself, my time at Pierpont was an enduring experience. I transferred to UMass from Holyoke Community College in January '75. I'd originally requested to live in a co-ed dorm in Orchard Hill. Where did I end up? In the all-male zoo at Washington tower. It was worse than Hell. I lasted one night. Someone recommended I talk to Charlotte Lettis, the Head of Residence at Pierpont House. It was the only lead I had so I followed it. Mercifully, there was room at the inn. I am so grateful there was. I still have many fond memories and friends I made there nearly 30 years ago. My life is that much richer for my time there.
Pierpont House was a low-rise dorm on the southwest corner of UMass's infamous Southwest Residential Area. SW was rumored to have the highest population density on the planet. I can not confirm that but today SW has some 5,500 residents in about 1/4 of a square mile. Do the math. I'm not sure if Pierpont was unique in having "lifestyle" floors. The 4th floor was the infamous "Party Floor". I spent my first semester in Room 462. I'm not sure what the 3ed floor was.... possibly a No Mans Land between the 4th and the 2ed "Academic Floor". It was on the so-called "academic" floor I lived the next four semesters, first in room 225, then 212 and 216. The 1st floor had the Head of Residence apartment, the P-10 office, lounges and a kitchen. The basement was the "Meditation" Floor. The dorm was further divided into the "Sunset" and "Dark" sections. I'm pretty sure why the west "wing" was dubbed sunset. I can only assume the east "wing" not dubbed sunrise because being in the shadow of the dorms to the east, it never saw a sunrise.
Unlike other dorms who were named after famous figures like JFK, Emerson, and Washington... our dorm honored someone named Mildred Pierpont. At the time I thought she might have been another famous poet I'd never heard of. But it seems Mildred was dedicated UMass bureaucrat. Despite the obscure namesake... Pierpont was the furthest from being an obscure dorm. Officially, it was the home of Project 10 which became the Inquiry Program. Remarkably, there's almost nothing on the web about this Program except this.
".....the residential program Project 10, based in Pierpont House in Southwest, where students lived and attended classes and were in many ways buffered from the diversions and uncertainties of what could seem a huge, bureaucratically unyielding institution. Another [Charles] Adams initiative, the Inquiry Program, exempted participants from general education requirements and gave them more flexibility to chose their academic path."
The Daily Collegian once wrote:
"The Inquiry Program and its predecessor Project 10, which began in 1968, were total living and learning programs designed to encourage critical thought and independence. Courses taught in Pierpont included Communitarian Living, Drugs and Society and the Literature of Utopia."
Because of Pierpont's non-traditional roots and defiant tradition, it attracted more than its share of non-traditional students and radicals who wanted to keep that tradition alive. By the time I arrived in spring '75 Pierpont was a well-established hotbed of drugs, noisy parties, and radical politics. Some were more fiercely militant about their right to party than about politics. It was for people like that the term "ZooMass" was probably invented. Maybe symbolic of the anarchy was not just the occasional beer keg rolling down a stairwell... but that the dorm rejected security. Unlike other dorms, the outside doors were never locked except for vacations and inter-session. UMass seemed to have given up even trying to enforce that policy.
On many levels Pierpont for years was a thorn in the SW and UMass administration's side. Aside from the lifestyle issues, there was an ongoing political struggle with administrators to have the dorm go student run. This was something the administration was loathe to allow. Instead by '78 it was clear they wanted to see the dorm's residents broken up. One such plan proposed making Pierpont a dorm only for freshmen and sophomores. This led to a sit-in in April '78. Probably the lowest point came in January '79 when someone attempted to frighten or injure Tom Whitford, Pierpont's Head of Residence. He was unpopular with some elements in the dorm since he tried to put a lid on the anarchy. The news shocked the campus and shook up the administration. Again there was open discussion of breaking up the dorm and scattering the residents to the winds. I suspect that by the 80's the administration finally got their wish and broke Pierpont's back. That finally happened a few years ago.
Pierpont is now a freshman-only dorm, part of the EPOCH program. In doing so UMass was finally able to break the historic self-sustaining cycle where the dorm's reputation was a magnet for the like-minded, and they in turn, helped perpetuate the Pierpont reputation.
This site was created to help preserve the history of Pierpont during its glory days.... and to help people who lived there reconnect. The site is a joint project between myself and my former roommate Karl Franzen who, fortunately, now operates his own website development business. If you lived or worked at Pierpont in the 60's, 70's and 80's, please feel free to post on the message board and submit material such as old pics, articles, and material from the dorm. If you know anyone who lived at Pierpont, please pass the word.