Can an Arts School, a City College, and a Christian Institution Realistically Share a Dorm?

Without driving each other crazy?

If School of Visual Arts film major Ethan Bellows ever tires of his floormates and decides he wants a taste of dorm life at another college, all he has to do is get in the elevator of his dorm building at 101 Ludlow Street.

If Bellows presses a button for any floor between 6 and 11, he'll be conveyed to the residences of students attending CUNY's Baruch College, a school that, until this year, did not provide students with dorm housing. If he presses a button between 12 and 18 instead, he'll be greeted by young men who attend the King's College, a small Christian school whose students gather in each other's rooms for Bible studies. (King's women live in separate dorms near Herald Square.)

Built in 2009 to meet what SVA administrators perceived as a growing demand for dormitory housing, the 20-story building at 101 Ludlow was poised to become one of the largest art-student residences in the country. But that fall, only 173 students moved into the dorm, which has room for more than 350—a circumstance SVA spokesman Michael Grant attributes to "a more competitive housing environment for students and families" following that year's real estate crash.

Taking a load off in the common room at 101 Ludlow Street
Photograph by Ashlei Quinones
Taking a load off in the common room at 101 Ludlow Street

This spring, SVA administrators decided that to save their custom-built dorm, they would have to share it. Administrators at Baruch, whose main campus building is two miles away on Lexington Avenue, had long been seeking a dorm to offer to the out-of-town students it has begun to attract as the school has climbed in the college rankings, as well as students from the outer boroughs. King's, which after closing its Westchester campus in 1994 due to financial troubles reopened in the Empire State Building in 1999, sought overflow housing to accommodate an incoming class of 205 students, almost double that of the year before.

SVA signed agreements with Baruch and King's earlier this year, creating outrage among some SVA students. "There's no main campus to hang out in, no real dining hall, the dorms are the only place our school has to really live as a school community. don't ruin it! keep sva housing for sva!" read one student's comment on an Internet petition that circulated this spring and was signed by 226 students.

In August, students from all three schools moved into what would soon become the city's most unusual dormitory. "It's kind of a social experiment," says SVA first-year student Michelle Babinsky, while smoking a cigarette in front of the building on a Saturday night. "Everyone is so different."

Baruch students who live on the 10th floor, including sophomore Stephanie Scutari, say their floor has an "open-door policy." "Everyone wants to hang out with each other," she says. Tenth-floor resident Joby John found "doors open and couches out" and a game of beer pong in session when he stepped out of the elevator at around 4 a.m. on a Sunday in September.

Students at King's, meanwhile, are governed by a strict code of behavior, including a dress code that requires slacks and blazers in class. The anti-alcohol policy in the King's student handbook reads, "Drunkenness is unwise and biblically prohibited," and, in support of this interpretation, cites three passages from First Corinthians. Before screening R-rated movies in student lounges, King's students must obtain permission from their dean of students.

The lobby of 101 Ludlow features an exhibit of black-and-white mock mug shots, in which SVA students hold signs that attest to such crimes as stealing squirrels from Madison Square Park, possessing unauthorized art supplies, and piracy. But when they go down to the common room this fall, the dorm's original SVA residents are as likely to find members of the House of Ronald Reagan, a social organization at King's, hunkered among stacked Pringles cans and playing a game of Halo: Reach, as they were on a recent Saturday night, as they are to find their own classmates.

If some SVA students are disappointed by the new arrangement, others see advantages: "King's has more kids from the middle of the country than SVA," says Bellows, who grew up in Arizona. "I've met some cool kids at King's."

King's first-year student Greg Pittman also appreciates the dorm's diversity. "It helps you get to know people in different circles of New York," he says.

SVA's Amy Snyder, 101 Ludlow's residence hall director, says SVA students appreciate that, unlike last year, the common room is now usually full of students, as it was on a Saturday evening in early October when students from all three schools stood talking around the foosball and pool tables at a mixer hosted by Baruch's student government. Snyder says that SVA students also benefit from a diversity of interests not typically found in art-school dorms. "Some students want a conservatory atmosphere and want to be around people with different interests, too," she says. "Now they don't have to choose. They can be with art students during the day, and if they want to watch a basketball game at night with someone, they can do that."

Or they can play dodgeball, as six Baruch students and two students from SVA, including Bellows, did on a recent Sunday afternoon, heading east on Delancey to East River Park. Afterward, Bellows walked back to Ludlow with John, who plans to study accounting. After four years of commuting to the Bronx High School of Science from his home in Floral Park, Queens, John says, "I was kind of sick of that. I asked my parents to dorm for the college experience and they said pick one year."

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