Cultivating Community

Khan Shairani ’18 was ready for something new.

After living with three roommates in Wharton Hall, having a single room as a resident assistant (RA) in Willets Hall, and enjoying an apartment lifestyle while interning in New York City, he was eager for something more personalized and post-college.

So when there was an opening for an RA at the brand-new PPR Apartments, he pounced.

“It just felt like the logical next step,” Shairani, an economics major from Auburn, Mass., says of the dorm’s suite-style accommodations.

“There aren’t as many distractions; it’s just you and your friends,” he adds. “That gives you more peace of mind and the ability to focus.”

Shairani was far from alone in that thinking. A majority of juniors in last spring’s housing lottery chose PPR Apartments in blocks of five or more friends, bucking the convention of wanting to be in the center of campus, says Isaiah Thomas, assistant director of residential communities for the Dean’s Office.

“There’s something intriguing about living in a community with your closest friends and sharing communal spaces and cooking together,” says Thomas, who solicited input on all aspects of the residence hall from a student housing advisory committee.

“That’s not the type of experience we have offered here before.”

Boasting single rooms as well as communal space for socializing and studying, he adds, PPR Apartments offers students the best of both worlds.

“They get to live with their friends but also enjoy more personal space and privacy,” Thomas adds.

And by bringing 120 more students to the south side of campus, PPR Apartments is cultivating a vibrant community. So much so that the Pittenger, Palmer, and Roberts (PPR) Halls, typically a lottery afterthought, now entice students.

“We had students begging to go there this year,” says Thomas.

The new building will create new connections, whether it’s the shared courtyard between the apartments and the dorms or the apartments’ second-level terrace that overlooks the Clothier Baseball Field.

“That’s something unique in terms of connecting the residential community and athletics,” says Thomas. “It will just be awesome to see students gathering on that terrace to watch a ballgame.”

Indeed, a dorm wall doubling as the left-field fence and a terrace overlooking play will combine for “one of the most unique settings in all of college baseball,” says Head Baseball Coach Matt Midkiff.

“This will provide the entire Swarthmore community, fans, and our players with something we can say is truly one-of-a-kind,” he says. “I hope the residents brought their gloves, as we intend to put a bunch of baseballs on the terrace!”

Also putting PPR Apartments on the map are the lounge and study spaces on the ground floor, which feel like a cross between the Kohlberg Coffee Bar and the Cornell Science Library. While there are still finishing touches to be made, the bright and flexible space, open to all students, is drawing raves and upending routines.

“Two students who used to go to Hobbs Coffee to study told me they’re now getting their coffee there and bringing it back to the lounge space,” says Asraa Jaber, who works and lives in PPR Apartments as a residential communities coordinator. “The students I’ve seen coming and going have been really excited about the community that’s growing here."

That will only increase later this fall, when the College finishes the shared courtyard and terrace; completes the Palmer-Pittenger link, which is now ADA-accessible; and wraps up paving and landscaping work around the apartments. Arboretum staff will continue planting around the new buildings in the spring.

The College is also considering opening the courtyard and terrace spaces up for students to reserve for wet and non-wet events, which is generating excitement, says Jaber.

But in the meantime, the staff and RAs are working together to foster a community presence organically.

“It’s only been a few weeks, but so far it’s been a very positive and interesting experience here,” Shairani says. “I’m really excited to see where it goes.”

 

Read about Swarthmore’s plans for the physical campus at lifechanging.swarthmore.edu.