For decades at UConn, if you asked directions to the North Campus dormitories, you would most likely be met with a puzzled expression. If you asked where the Jungle was, though, chances are your interlocutor would have no trouble steering you in the right direction.
That this has changed is unthinkable to some Huskies who graduated before the early 2000s, when the place’s reputation began to change. The Jungle was made alcohol-free in 2002, a decision so at odds with its reputation that it prompted a story in The New York Times.
“I was a freshman in Northwest in ’05 and we definitely just called it ‘North,’ but the story of it being called ‘The Jungle’ was very well known,” says Sean Rose ’09 (CLAS).
The legends of the Jungle are many, from mass snowball fights between the “jungle rats” and the residents of South Campus to requisitioning dining hall trays to serve as surfboards down the muddy slope of the hill where the dorms stand. Perhaps no story of mayhem is as familiar as the one about returning veterans who were students on the GI Bill — in some tales, from World War II; in others, it’s the Vietnam War — who rode motorcycles through the hallways.
The motorcycles may be apocryphal, but the history of North Campus is bound up with returning veterans. After the Allied victory in Europe and Asia, U.S. universities experienced a surge of enrollment that lasted well into the subsequent decade. UConn was no exception, and faced with a serious housing shortage in the late 1940s, the University built the 11 dormitories of North Campus in time for the arrival of students in the fall of 1950.
The standard assumption is that North became known as the Jungle because of the rowdy behavior of the vets, a claim made by, among others, Evan Hill, former head of the journalism department, in an unpublished history of the University.In the early 1950s, there was indeed plenty of rowdy behavior coming from North Campus. In October 1954, for instance, there was a mass march on South Campus for a water fight with the female students living there, followed a week later by a “military-type” explosive being detonated outside New London Hall. But surprisingly, the Jungle was not yet the Jungle.
“The day will come,” vowed North Campus judiciary board member Gordon Leibowitz to the Connecticut Campus, “when North Campus will no longer be called ‘The Den of Animals’ or ‘The Catacombs.’” He was right, although he might not have been thrilled to know that “The Den” spent decades as “The Jungle” before becoming known as North Campus.
Of course, whether you call it North, the Jungle, the Den of Animals, or something else (for the first 70 years of our history, before residence halls were built there, students knew it as Cemetery Hill), what’s indisputable is that it’s been a home away from home for generations of Huskies who will cherish their memories of it for as long as they live.
Just remember to park your motorcycle outside.
By Tom Breen ’00 (CLAS)
I fondly remember my Freshman Year (1967) in the Jungle – Davenport 104- second building on the left. Between the entire Male Freshman Class in one centralized location and our next door neighbors: The Fraternity Houses, there was never a dull moment. It was always an adventure going up “The Hill” to the cafeteria. Between the daily “Mystery Meat,” the lovely serving ladies with those beautiful nets on their heads and the unexpected always taking place, the dining experience taught you to keep your eyes open and always be ready to duck!
For some reason, I can not forget hearing the song “The Letter” by The Box Tops blaring loudly out of the cafeteria jukebox 10 time every meal. To this day, I remember every word of that song.
Fast forward to the second semester Freshman year. Things were not calming down in The Jungle. I am not sure what genius came up with this idea, but it truly was a stroke of genius. When we all return at the beginning of the semester, the first two dorms at the bottom of The Hill ( both sides) had new residents. Both dorms were now inhabited with Freshman (Freshwomen)
Female students…. “what just happened”?
The crazy, unforgiving, wild Jungle had been transformed to a degree of civility overnight. All of a sudden, the guys were dressing a little nicer (or dressing at all); language transformed to words with more than 4 letters; food was not flying in the cafeteria (as often as usual) and “The Letter” only played 5 times every meal.
The lesson learned is that we live in a homogeneous world….we all need to learn how to integrate ourselves …. and the second semester Freshman year 1967 UConn became a lot more civilized. A turning point in University History.
(Except for the Fraternity Houses😜)
Alan Srebnick ‘71
It wasn’t rowdy in the early ‘90s, but it was definitely still The Jungle. I remember Around the World parties, the vast cafeteria, and watching a couple of crazies in the courtyard when UConn won a game (or lost). And we loved our mellower neighbors to the west in Frats.
Can’t believe it’s been over 40 years since I moved into Fairfield Hall in September of 1975 as a freshman.
I actually moved into New Haven Hall (adjacent dorm, closest to No. Eagleville) by mistake and didn’t figure it out
for two days until a person that had already moved in mentioned to me that this was New Haven, not Fairfield Hall!
Anyway, ended up having an unforgettable two-year run there between 75-77, and yes, it did live up to it’s rep
at times, and most of my many friends on Fairfield third floor and I did our best to maintain that hard-earned stature!
I may have even driven my blue Chevy Vega up and down the quad between the dorm wings one night,
but that was a long time ago and really, who can remember clearly that far back!
Loved every minute of my time in the “Jungle”, wouldn’t trade it for anything!
Channel 8 did a feature on the Jungle in the late 80’s, when it was at the height of its infamy. They presented the dorms as a seat of debauchery and drunkenness, symbolized by the “underwear tree” (where female undergarments, stolen from laundry rooms were hung). Living there at that time was a blast!