Students adjust to living in hotels

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Wu Caiyi | Senior Staff Photographer

Students write messages with sticky notes in the windows of their Wyndham hotel dorm rooms.

By Thea Barrett, Staff Writer

When Sophia Hernandez’s dorm tour TikTok went viral, it wasn’t because people liked her decorations. It was because her dorm wasn’t a dorm at all — it was a hotel room.

Hernandez, a first-year environmental science major, is living in the Wyndham hotel, one of the three hotels Pitt bought out to house first-year students to help de-densify housing this year. She planned to decorate her room with her roommate extensively, so she wanted to make a TikTok out of it. But then it gained tens of thousands of views, with many people asking what it’s like to live in a hotel as a dorm.

“I started making videos answering questions, and then everyone started asking what about the pool, the laundry room, the food, so I did a tour, and that one blew up too,” Hernandez said. “It turned out people were really interested in this.”

Pitt chose to make all normal double dorm rooms into singles, and all triple rooms into doubles due to social distancing requirements during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To accommodate this, the University leased $22 million in hotel rooms to house approximately 25% of the first-year student population, according to Matthew Sterne, vice chancellor for business services.

Some of the pros of being in a hotel as opposed to a dorm are the private bathroom, queen beds and closet, according to Hernandez. She said despite being a hotel, it still feels like a dorm — Pitt’s efforts to give everyone a roommate, the presence of RAs and still being able to see Cathy from her window helps give her the feeling of college.

“It has felt a lot like a dorm, even if you do know that you’re in a hotel,” Hernandez said. “You’ll walk through the hallway and see your RA, and be able to go outside to Cathy or to the dining hall.”

The University and hotel partners worked through the summer to prepare the buildings for the students. Eric Pohl, the general manager for the Residence Inn on Bigelow Boulevard, said there was much preparation, and it paid off.

“There was rearranging of furniture, relocation of hotel guests, and lots of planning and coordinating with the University to assure the students had a safe and welcoming arrival,” Pohl said. “The University staff and students alike have been great to work with.”

Tiara McGowan-Jones, a first-year undecided major living in the Residence Inn on Bigelow, has enjoyed many things about the hotel, such as having her own kitchen and bathroom. But the downsides of being farther away from campus and inconsistent Wi-Fi and laundry makes her unsure if it was worth it. She added that she didn’t request to be in a hotel in the first place.

All first-year students had the opportunity in July to put in a preference for a single room in a dorm or a double room in a hotel, before Pitt ran its usual lottery system for assigning rooms. McGowan-Jones said she requested a dorm, but ended up in a hotel with the roommate she originally requested back before a hotel was even an option.

“I actually asked to be in a dorm, so that was a bit of a surprise when opening up the assignments,” McGowan-Jones said. “It was nice to have a roommate, to have someone to go through the experience with, though, so that was kind of a blessing in disguise.”

McGowan-Jones said she feels like the RAs have attempted to make the hotel feel like a dorm, but there are certain aspects that will just never feel like a dorm, such as the floor layout and having to go to another building for small tasks such as printing things out. She also said the shuttle scheduling is “weird,” so she just prefers to stay in her room, which doesn’t help her feel connected to the campus.

“It makes me less inclined to go places because it’s a hassle to go places, so I end up just feeling like ‘forget it,’ which isn’t the greatest and leads to me feeling cooped up in my room more often,” McGowan-Jones said.

Cocoro Kambayashi, a first-year studio arts major who lives in the Wyndham, also originally requested to be in a dorm, but said she would now request to be in a hotel. She said even if it isn’t the ideal setup for bonding or doesn’t have the feel of a dorm, there are a lot of benefits normal college students in dorms don’t have, like a queen bed or a restaurant downstairs that takes dining dollars.

“We got a queen bed from the hotel, not a twin bed from the school, and our room is exactly like a regular hotel room,” Kambayashi said. “It’s so much nicer and so much more private.”

With hundreds of students on the Wi-Fi at roughly the same time for classes, students have reported problems with the internet not working. McGowan-Jones said she’s been kicked out of multiple Zoom classes, and despite Pitt and the hotels promising they would improve the service, it hasn’t gotten much better.

“I’ve only been kicked out of a class once or twice, but I’ve heard friends complain about being kicked out eight times in one meeting just because the Wi-Fi keeps going in and out,” McGowan-Jones said.

Sterne said Pitt is working on making sure all students have access to reliable Wi-Fi.

“Internet service has been upgraded across hotel properties, and we continue to closely monitor Wi-Fi performance with Pitt IT to ensure quality, reliable connections,” Sterne said.

Kambayashi said despite some struggles connecting with others in her building, she is still glad she decided to come to campus.

“We hang out on Cathy lawn, or Soldiers and Sailors, and being in the hotel really doesn’t feel any different from being anywhere else on campus,” Kambayashi said. “I still get to have a college experience, even if my room looks different, and I get the bonus of not even having to leave my room to wash my hands.”

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