Sleep to Dream Exhibition Documents Pitzer Dorm Aesthetics As Central to Student Experience

As teenagers, we dream about residence hall life long before it becomes a reality. We imagine rooms furnished to our fancy,
parties, and neckties on the door handle. 

In many ways, the residence hall room represents the first foray into freedom for incoming first-years. Students are able to experiment and create a space exactly as they want. However, they have to
find ways to make their small half, or in some cases, third, of a rectangular
box feel like their own. How is this

To explore this question, the Sleep to Dream exhibition is on display from Jan. 23 to May 3 in the Lenzner Family Gallery, as a part of Pitzer College’s 50 Forward Campaign. The experiential exhibition by artist Martin Durazo PZ ’90 explores the topic of residence hall room
aesthetics, spanning five decades to mirror Pitzer’s own historical timeline. 

Upon entering the exhibit, one will likely wonder, “What in the world
do Huey P. Newton’s wicker chair, a bong, strange mirrored decorations, a
miniature lofted bed, and flashing colored lights have to do with one
another?” The obvious answer here would seem to be nothing. 

But Ciara Ennis, director and curator
of campus galleries at Pitzer, said that Durazo adroitly combined these different objects. 

“In this work, Martin was attempting to trace socio-political and
cultural moments through the use of specific objects, which have their own
historical and cultural referents embedded within—such as the Huey Newton chair
or allusions to Black Flag punk band,” Ennis said. “If looked at in isolation, these objects
may seem disparate and unconnected, but through his careful juxtaposition and
playful handing of materials, paints, and lights, Martin has brought them
seamlessly together so that they function as parts of a whole.” 

As revealed by the wide range of objects featured in Sleep to Dream, Pitzer’s residence hall life has evolved over the years. Students have been moved out of the
center of campus and into newer halls that differ dramatically in design
from their predecessors.  

Char Miller PZ ’75, now a professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College, feels that the
architecture of the older residence halls like Holden and Mead, where he lived, facilitated
strong personal relationships. 

“If you
look at the old dorms and the living rooms that they have, which served as
communal spaces, you can see that you had a hub,” Miller said. “You had this place to go, you had this sort
of discourse and language that you could develop there, and community meetings
could be held there in large number. The new
dorms don’t have those sorts of communal spaces. There’s no reason to go into them because
they’re not central and they’re much smaller.” 

“The irony for me as someone who’s a big fan of sustainability is that in
building sustainable dorms, Pitzer has in fact made unsustainable the human relationships
inside those dorms,” he added. 

considering room aesthetics and residence hall life in general at
Pitzer, students expressed different ideas, but converged on some issues. 

Sachi Watase PZ ’17 said that the residential life is an
extremely important part of having a positive experience at Pitzer. Being friends with one’s roommate is an
essential for Watase; she is best friends with her roommate and good friends
with her suite-mates. However, she feels that living in Atherton has made her residential experience quieter and more isolated from the hub of activity in the Pitzer and Sandborn residence halls. 

Watase and her roommate refer to their room as “home,” which is decorated with items like a math clock, posters, maps, and prayer
flags. The ability to make the space their own has made their room a comfortable place. 

“You can really make this your space,” Watase said. “Aesthetics
are important to me because I spend a lot of time in my room. I
really enjoy being on campus and creating our room the way we want.”

Jacob Bronstein PZ ’16, who lives in a single in Mead Hall, has also found ways to individualize and enjoy his room. 

“Well, first I get a bunch of tapestries to decorate my room to
give it a more fun feeling, and then I have two
beds and a bean bag to make it comfortable,” Bronstein said. “I incorporate things that I’m into, like
music, so I have the two speakers, the disc jockey setup, and the mixer.”

Although taking everything down at the end of the year can
be disheartening, Bronstein said, he sees the transition as an opportunity for
more creation.

“It is kind of sad,
having to change rooms and take it all down, but it does leave next year for me
to make a new masterpiece,” he said. “Each year, I
get to choose a new theme and whatever I want to for it, so it is sad, but it’s
not so bad.”

He prefers Mead to Pitzer, Atherton, and Sanborn (PAS) because in Mead, students have the freedom to
shape their living space through mediums such as murals; to him, PAS feels sterile. 

“I just prefer living here,
because of the feel outside, you know?” Bronstein said. “There’s art everywhere. All the
walls are painted. PAS is just too basic. Everything’s the same. Every room looks the exact same.”

Speaking on this point, Amber Hassanein PZ ’15 has observed that the social dynamic changes from residence hall to residence hall. As a three-year resident of PAS and two-year RA, she feels that residential spaces determine what kind of social events are possible. She regrets not living in Mead, which feels more like an apartment and provides a better space for social gatherings. 

“[Friends] can gather in a space that’s intended
to hold eight or more people,” she said. “If I wanted to have eight friends over in my
single, that doesn’t really work.” 

In addition, she
that customizing the aesthetics of one’s room is invaluable to having a truly
individual experience at Pitzer, and that PAS does not necessarily provide its residents this opportunity. 

“Because these spaces are so sterile and
identical, if you don’t add your own bits of personality to them, then you’re
just stacking on top of someone else’s little box that they live in,” Hassanein said. 

In both the PAS dorms and the Phase II dorms—East and West Halls—the creation of student murals and residence hall artwork is prohibited. The administration has enforced the prohibition on the grounds that the murals undermine the creative vision of the buildings’ architects. 

This prohibition, Hassanein believes, detracts from the residential experience in PAS and Phase II.

no sense of the typical Pitzer personality,” Hassanein said. “It’s a bummer. That’s still something that Pitzer advertises: our open art policy.”

Isabel Shorney PZ ’14, who has lived in North Sanborn, Holden, and
West Halls, also believes that the school should allow murals to be painted in PAS and Phase II. 

“I feel like blending the new dorms in
with the rest of the school, which is totally covered in murals, would be totally
fine,” Shorney said. “These buildings were made for
Pitzer’s campus, and that’s how Pitzer’s campus looks.” 

Shorney feels that creating a personalized space out of a room is not difficult. Instead, she describes it as a work in progress, an ever-changing interior space. 

“I think it’s easy; look at our wall,” she said, referring to a surface that is spattered with paper snowflakes and a snowman in honor of winter. “We just
kind of went with it.” 

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