By Juliana Reyes
Walk down the halls of any dorm at elite women’s school Bryn Mawr College, and you’ll see girls. Lots of them. They’re plucking their eyebrows in the bathroom, talking to their boyfriends on their cellphones or putting up posters of the hottest young actor. But in one dorm, you’ll see a little something different.
Cascades of bright orange hair usually shield his face, but don’t be fooled. That’s a guy in the bathroom. His name is James Merriam. And he is brushing his hair.
“I think he brushes his hair a lot more than me,” freshman Melanie Levy says. “Somebody braided his hair once. It was really thick. He’s pretty cool about things like that.”
Levy lives on the third floor of a dorm called Denbigh. It is the only dorm on campus where a male lives. Though men from Haverford College, Bryn Mawr’s sister school, often take classes, eat meals and socialize at Bryn Mawr, most choose to live on their own campus. The last time a Haverford male lived at Bryn Mawr was in 2003. Many of the students around during that time have graduated, so to the girls attending Bryn Mawr now, this is revolutionary.
“It’s like yeah, I checked that box saying that I wouldn’t mind living in a co-ed dorm, but you always know that’s not going to happen,” says freshman Carrie Schoonover, who also lives on Merriam’s hall. “Well, except for this time.”
Merriam, a sophomore at Haverford, is tall and skinny. He sports a tuft of orange hair on his chin – “It’s weird when you see him shaving,” sophomore Natalie Kauppi admits, and of
course, there’s that unforgettable mass of nearly fluorescent-colored hair that has given him the nickname “Ginger Jesus.”
Save for the times when he’s headed for the shower with a towel wrapped around his waist, freshman Katie Sun says, “He’s not really the type to just walk around his boxers.” She remarks on his low-key existence in the dorm, saying it’s not a big deal. Her hallmates all seem to agree.
“He’s not obnoxious about being the only guy,” Kauppi says. She thinks that Merriam’s presence at Bryn Mawr has been so smooth partly because of the “quietness of himself.”
Still, Merriam is certainly aware of his status as “The Only Guy.”
Asked if other Haverford guys ever ask him if it’s awesome to live here because of all the girls.
“Yes,” he says.
A wide grin spreads across his face. “Yes.”
Man on a Mission
All hormones aside, Merriam had a mission when he made the decision to live here last April.
“I wanted to take action,” Merriam says, “against the animosity between campuses.”
The hostility between Bryn Mawr and Haverford is no secret to the students at the two colleges. Maybe the Haverford girls are possessive over their men, maybe it’s the rumors spread about Bryn Mawr girls being “easy,” or maybe it’s just been going on for so long that it’s become second nature. Whatever it is, Merriam wants to fix it.
“I want to be a symbol of integration,” he says. When asked what college he attends, Merriam will answer “both.” He is a member of both Haverford and Bryn Mawr’s networks on Facebook and has a mailbox on both campuses as well. Two pairs of Haverford flip flops lie around his room, but he also whips out a green pair of Bryn Mawr running shorts.
“I wear them proudly,” he says, grinning.
He feels he can be a source of information about Haverford for the girls on his hall. He is busy promoting the idea of living on the opposite campus, since it so rarely happens.
“Maybe in the two years I have I can step it way up,” he says. “Maybe I can reignite something that has gone away.”
Center of Attention
Merriam’s status as the only male living at Bryn Mawr has gotten him a lot of attention. You can always hear people talking about “Ginger Jesus” on the Blue Bus, the bus that runs between Haverford and Bryn Mawr, or in the dining halls. His name, or nickname, at least, seems to be on everyone’s lips. Merriam says he anticipated it but didn’t let it stop him from his mission.
“It seemed too important to let it get in the way,” he says.
Merriam feels strongly about the cause because he thinks that people who stick solely to their own campus are missing out. He says he finds himself defending both colleges equally. He likens himself to a “forerunner.”
“You know, the guy who risks falling into the canyon because he’s going first.”
Merriam is quick to mention the perks of living at Bryn Mawr. He loves the food and the rooms are nicer. He likes never having to worry about his bathroom being trashed because of last night’s big party, as Bryn Mawr is known for its lack of ragers.
He plans on living at Bryn Mawr next year as well.
“It’s totally worth it, even if you don’t do it for political reasons.”