Article and photos by Nicole Lockwood
Spacious apartment-style dorm rooms with private bathrooms, free cable television, high-speed Internet, access to a gym, on-site laundry accommodations, in the heart of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. To any incoming Baruch student eager to live in the city, this may sound like a dream come true. And sometimes when something sounds too good to be true, it is.
The Baruch College Residence Life website presents photographs of Baruch students enjoying these spaces and engaging in social activities. “This state-of-the-art residence is equipped with a high tech gym, laundry facility that texts you when your clothes are dry, and a very chill lounge to study or relax with your friends,” the website says. The reality that residents confront in 1760 Third Avenue at the corner of East 97th Street is somewhat different, I found when I lived there.
“The dorms are okay, but it’s not what you would normally picture when you think of college,” said Brian Monaghan, a former resident and current junior at Baruch. “People like to keep to themselves and stay in, which is really different from what I’ve seen when visiting other colleges.”
Empty floors and silent hallways were the norm, and a common complaint among residents I talked to, both current and former, is the lack of some sense of community. Others note how far away from campus they are – the website says “walking distance to Central Park and the East River,” but the campus is more than 70 blocks away – and how the dorm costs more than some apartment rentals.
Although advertised specifically as a “Baruch Residence Hall,” the building, operated by an organization known as Educational Housing Services (EHS), serves as a home for students from Hunter, LIM and Marymount Colleges, the New York Film Academy and the School of Visual Arts. That Baruch students occupy only 6 of the building’s 19 floors is not mentioned on the website, and was news to me when I moved in. About 240 Baruch students live there, less than 1.5 percent of the college’s enrollment.
Strict rules are enforced, and left a lot of us unhappy. These include random room checks and a lengthy process to bring a guest inside. While most universities simply require a visitor to produce form of identification to be allowed to visit a dorm, our overnight guests had to be pre-approved before 9 p.m., and approval is contingent upon whether the resident being visited has received prior warnings or write-ups.
How exactly does one accrue such write-ups? Hanging Christmas lights was one offense, owning a coffee maker another, and many other activities were violations of the regulations.
Many of the downsides of living in this building might be overlooked if it were near Baruch. How nice it would have been, as it is at so many colleges, to walk from my dorm room to class in minutes. For Baruch students at the dorm, going to campus means walking to the subway station, taking a 15- to 20-minute train ride, then walking two blocks to class. Can a residence hall 70 blocks away be considered “on-campus housing”?
Baruch used to have resident space on Ludlow Street in the Lower East Side. There, too, Baruch students shared space with students from other colleges. Some residents who have lived in both vicinities liked the Ludlow location better.
“At Ludlow, there was free laundry and a game room that people actually used,” said Nick Smith, a Baruch senior. “And a 30-minute walk to class is way better than a 30-minute subway ride to class.”
Christopher Kaimis, also a Baruch senior, recalled: “The surrounding area was a major plus at Ludlow. On any night of the week, you could always go out and have a great time since there’s plenty to do.”
Baruch shifted its residence facilities from the Lower East Side to the Upper East Side in Fall 2012. If it ever announced why, no track of that exists on the college web site, and when I asked various college officials, they either didn’t respond or said they didn’t know.
Room and board costs are higher uptown than they were on Ludlow Street. For the 2014-15 academic year, the cost is $12,400 for a double room and $11,600 for a triple. Students can remain in the building from late August through early June, roughly 10 months. That’s at least $1,160 a month, and some students say they can do better finding an apartment elsewhere.
Some students, including Valeria LaBarbera, have attempted to bring school spirit to the residence hall. LaBarbera, an EHS Resident Advisor and current Baruch student, acts as president of the Residency Council, a group that tries to bring students together through events including Zumba workshops, movie nights and discounted restaurant outings.
“There are plenty of things for people to get involved in,” said LaBarbera. “I think people kind of have a commuter mentality, so to try and get them out of their shells is sometimes hard, but there are definitely people willing. It’s a matter of finding them.”
LaBarbera said a recent pumpkin-and-apple-pie-baking session drew about 30 people, a sharp rise in attendance compared with events last year.
In October, a program called the “Open Door Wars” encouraged residents to keep their room doors open; Resident Advisors would walk through the building noting which rooms were open in the evening , and at the end of each month, the floor with the highest percentage of open doors received a pizza party.
“This initiative was a fantastic attempt at encouraging inter- and intra-floor bonding,” said Dinetta Sprolling, the current Student Affairs Coordinator. “As residents passed by each other’s rooms they could stop in for a quick friendly chat with a neighbor and potential friend.”
While that might seem like a promising step in the right direction, turnout was not very high.
“No one goes to the events,” said Brian Coniglio, a current third-year resident and Baruch College junior. “You’re lucky if you get 10 people to show up, unless there’s free food.”