As students began arriving at Florida Southern for Resident Advisor training weeks, one began to prepare herself for a new kind of living situation: a hotel.
Charissa Schwartz, a junior political economy and business major, moved into the Holiday Inn on South Florida Avenue when the school year began, where she serves as the Resident Advisor for more than 40 students.
“It’s weird being a first-year RA,” Schwartz said. “It’s a cool experience, but everything after this will be different.”
It was the first year at Florida Southern for all of the students initially housed at the hotel, though all of them were also transfer students or students who had stepped away from FSC for a gap of time and returned to the community. In Schwartz’s mind, this contributes to a unique community environment that combines aspects of freshman and apartment complex life.
Decoration rules are similar between apartments and the holiday inn rooms. The hotel doesn’t allow candles, pets or nails in the walls, but Schwartz described that the hotel allowed her fish tank, a horticulture student’s plants, and extra storage space. For privacy reasons, however, door decks are hung inside.
There are a couple of other amenities provided as well. As in any hotel, sheets are washed weekly, and there is a pool, continental breakfast, office space and small gym in the building.
Describing it as a “different community feel,” Schwartz guesses that because there’s only one way in and out of the hotel that she sees her residents more: in the elevator, in the hallways, in the lobby, and that there’s something exciting about being in a ‘hotel’ room from “your own room” that her residents get to experience.
Holiday Inn residents are provided, for the time being, with a shuttle bus that runs between the hotel and campus. Though it often runs late, Schwartz said, the safety office and its officers have been extremely flexible and accommodating.
“Safety’s been super super sweet,” Schwartz said. “They know we’re the Holiday Inn kids…. they’re learning all of us and our faces.”
Schwartz added that because of the transportation difficulties to and from the hotel and campus, that roommates learn to depend on one another, not just coexist. International students, especially those who don’t have working phone plans in the United States, have found this to be true.
“[They say,] ‘We’re both new; we both don’t know how this works; how can we help each other?’” Schwartz said.
Communication issues aren’t all on the students’ end. Schwartz laments that she wasn’t able to meet with all of her residents in the first day of their residence at the Holiday Inn to explain the laundry and transportation systems.
Because the rooms that FSC students live in are scattered across the four floors of the hotel, it took Schwartz two and a half hours to give those explanations. She says, though, that most of the complaints that she hears are one-time issues.
“Once they figure it out, and you have a problem the first time, then you figure it out the first time and it’s good,” she said.
Despite these challenges, Schwartz said that she feels like students at the Holiday Inn appreciate that they have an RA that lives among them, and doesn’t just visit the building to do check-ups. She cites her fellow RAs, Community Director Casey Yoder and Dean of Students Mike Crawford, as her supporters.
“I feel like I’m in the background, but they check up on me,” she said. “Everyone’s been like super resourceful… I haven’t felt like I’m on my own at all.”
Schwartz serves as the RA for a number of students that fluctuates day-to-day. Within the first week of school, several students moved into resident communities like Ledger and Lake Hollingsworth Apartments, but a few different students moved into the Holiday Inn, as well. At the time we spoke two more students were packing to leave. One student was going to move into a campus owned house, but found that the house needed some interior cleaning and repair when he arrived. While the work was being done, he stayed in the Holiday Inn.
“It’s hard to say how long each individual student will be there,” “It just is as things open up and as things come. But, too, if we have anyone left by the end of fall semester, the new apartment complex, the first building of that, will be done in January.”
Schwartz guessed that now that hurricane season has begun, it may be likely that in the event of hurricane damage to a residence community or campus-owned house, residents may be temporarily housed in the Holiday Inn.
“It was originally for ‘we didn’t have enough housing so it’s for this,’ but now we’re making it more versatile in what it’s used for.”
Florida Southern faced a similar housing issue last year. Rumors circulated in fall of 2018 about the potential use of the hotel services, but they never came to fruition.