Bonds formed over isolation, room service

by Beacon Staff • December 5, 2007

When a newcomer arrives at Emerson's Courtyard by the Marriott hotel dormitory, the hallway becomes a scene from The Wizard of Oz. Heads poke out of doorways, eyes dart up and down the hallway and ears perk up at the bustle. In the middle of the seventh floor hallway, the unexpected caller attracts a small crowd of about eight students.

They are among the approximately 130 Emerson students living in the Courtyard Marriott and Doubletree hotels this semester. They are housed there because the college's permanent dormitories at 80 and 150 Boylston St. proved too small to accommodate the class of 2011. Students will be housed in both hotels next year as well, Emerson's director of housing and residence life, David Haden, told The Beacon in September.

Despite the college's efforts to integrate hotel students with the more than 1,300 students who populate Boylston Street, many of the hotel's denizens said they felt like members of a separate community, one that is isolated but tight-knit. In interviews with 32 hotel residents, about half said they had experienced difficulty meeting people who live in other dormitories.

All 13 students interviewed in the Marriott, however, said they felt a strong sense of community among residents there, while answers to the same question varied among 19 Doubletree students interviewed.

Many said they enjoy the perks of living in a hotel, like room service, albeit from a truncated, Emerson administration-approved menu, and free laundry and linen service from maids who also stock the rooms with clean drinking glasses.

Most students, however, lamented the lack of a traditional dormitory community atmosphere. They feel isolated by the hotels' distance from campus and bored during the extended quiet hours enforced by hotel security.

They miss out on the dormitory tradition of propping open their doors and encouragin fraternization. The hotels impose a closed- and locked-door policy, which many said made them feel alienated from their neighbors and apprehensive about dropping in on fellow residents unannounced.

In short, the hotels can be a lonely place.

"It's hard. We don't mean to exclude ourselves," said freshman Lauren Festa, a Marriott resident. "We're just so stuck here."

The marketing communication major said she has very few friends in the on-campus dorms, and that winter weather will further hinder socialization with people outside the Marriott. She has tried to entice those dorm-dwelling friends to the hotels by touting advantages like free HBO, but still finds herself traipsing to Boylston Street if she wants to hang out.

The quiet in the hotels' hallways is broken only by the sound of a thumping bass line from one room and the rumblings of an elevator. Doors are bare in the Doubletree, where dry-erase boards are banned.

Freshman Kyle Miller, Festa's neighbor in the Marriott, said he shared her feeling of isolation.

"You don't see many new people here," the audio postproduction major said. "It forces you to make new friends from other dorms in class so you don't start feeling too incredibly boring."

A three-hour tour of the Marriott's maroon-carpeted hallways on a recent Thursday afternoon yielded only two Emerson visitors from the Little Building: freshmen Stephanie Guarda and Jeff Cline. The pair were knocking on the door of a high school friend of Cline's who had been feeling ill.

Cline said he only visits the hotels because of his hometown connection.

"And," the film production major said, "we come for the hot chocolate downstairs."

Guarda, who befriended Cline because they live on the fifth floor of the Little Building, admitted to having no close friends inside the hotels.

"Your friends are tied to your living situation," the writing, literature and publishing major said. "Unless I was really good friends with someone, as bad as it sounds, I'd have no motivation to walk down the street."

Haden said the Residence Hall Association held a 90's-themed dance on Oct. 4 in the Cabaret that was open to all campus residents. He said the RHA and the Hall Councils are currently planning an all-dormitory winter dance for February.

"Some of those programs and activities occur where the students live and others occur on other parts of campus or throughout Boston," Haden wrote in an e-mail to The Beacon. "Of course, one of the goals of Orientation is to bring all of our new students together when they arrive on campus so that they can meet one another and begin to develop friendships with other new students from across our campus."

In freshmen Chloe Medghalchi and Catherine Viglienzoni's room in the Marriott, both writing, literature and publishing majors said more programming between dorms would help assuage hotel-dwellers' feelings of isolation.

"I think a dance could help, or more icebreakers like we did during Orientation week, although it'd be harder to do during school," Medghalchi said.

"Even at dances, though, you mostly stay with the people you already know, so I'd say if there was some weird way to do more Orientation activities, it'd help."

Her roommate, a contributor to The Beacon, agreed. Dances are a good place to meet people but not necessarily to form lasting friendships, she said.

However, she said she doesn't blame the school for placing students in hotels, choosing to look on the bright side instead.

"It's kind of hard to meet people, because we can't just go up an elevator," Viglienzoni said. "Sometimes we don't actually feel like we're on campus. But then again, I don't know many [dorm] floors that bang on everybody's door just to go down to dinner."

In lieu of making new friends, the hotel kids have found unique ways of entertaining themselves, especially as snow and ice have further isolated them from the rest of campus.

Medghalchi and two male friends have taken to writing haiku and absurd acronyms of the occupant's names on each door of the seventh floor.

"Lovely Armenians Urinate Roughly Every Noche" is written on Festa's door, and "Kiss Your Lovely Excrement" on Miller's. The haiku on Room 710's white board reads, "Kitties play with yarn/Throw them, they land on their feet/Wear a fanny pack."

On her white board, an admirer had scrawled, "Thanks for the haiku, Chloe!" but it has since been erased and replaced with anonymous Secret Santa requests.

Medghalchi, a member of the Marriott's hall council, said students in the Marriott have formed their own bonds. They often go out together in big groups that rarely include residents of other dormitories.

"We're extremely co-dependent on each other as the group in this hotel," she said. "Which is probably why we don't see other people."

Freshman Rosie Moan said the dispersed living arrangements in the Doubletree deprive students there of the Marriott's sense of community. She said the spread out rooms and the hotel's policy against hanging white boards on room doors make connections hard to find.

When students in the Doubletree do hang out with each other, she said they share complaints and inside jokes about the hotel. The security guards

are frequent targets, and the daily 5 p.m. serving of apple cider in the lobby is known as "Happy Hour."

"We bitch about the same things, like the maids," the acting major said. "There's certain maids who give you extra towels or make your bed and some that don't. I don't know who those maids are but people definitely have favorite maids."

It was "maid day" on Moan's floor on Nov. 29, and three empty rooms in a row were propped open with cleaning supply carts. Inside, the walls were decorated with posters and photos of family members and friends. The bedspreads were standard Bed, Bath and Beyond fare: lots of plaid and polka dots. These rooms could have been mistaken for any Little Building dormitory room, until a maid squeezed by with a stack of white hotel towels to replace the used ones strewn on the private bathroom's floor.

Brooks Morrison, a sophomore living in the Doubletree, read in the corridor while waiting for a hotel maid to finish cleaning his double room. He said he and his group of friends have found ways to use the hotel's amenities to entertain themselves. They listen to the pianist in the hotel lobby, explore the building and interact with other guests.

"I'm always finding secret corridors," the film major said. "And there are different people here all the time for conventions. One time there was a police convention and cops were everywhere, which made some people nervous. For a week, the hotel was filled with Russians."

Morrison said he and a friend sometimes strike up conversations with those guests, practicing their acting skills by inventing different personae for each encounter.

"There's also a rumor about a room that's unlocked filled with the hotel's liquor," he said. "But I've never found it."

Marriott resident assistant John Plough said he feels his charges have adapted well to the hotel lifestyle, and that he's happy working in the hotel, although he was originally picked to be an RA in one of the on-campus dorms.

"Either way, we have a bunch of residents eager to get involved with stuff and who are succeeding in doing that despite [living in the hotels]," the graduate theatre education major said. "We've formed a really neat, tight-knit community here."

Morrison also said he felt the perks of living in the Doubletree outweigh the drawbacks of being isolated from campus.

"There's all these little things that are completely spoiling everyone," he said. "I compare living here to that movie Dunston Checks In. I'm going to be terribly spoiled when I move into an apartment next year. Until then, I'm just going to lap up the luxury."