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New dorms cater to students' interests.

Hola dormitorio español nuevo.


Ithaca College hasn’t gone entirely Spanish, but IC will introduce a new specialized dorm this fall. “Vecinos” (literal translation: “neighbors”) is the latest addition to the growing list of housing options available through residential life. The brainchild of modern languages and literatures professor Annette Levine, Vecinos will be a partial Spanish immersion program and will welcome all levels of Spanish enthusiasts.


Levine came up with the idea because she was frustrated. Her students would further their language abilities in class, but lose their accrued skills during semester breaks when they weren’t immersed in a Spanish-speaking environment. “Students don’t become fluent unless they go abroad,” says the Bronx native. “Students who don’t have the means to go abroad or who simply want to know more about Spanish culture will now have an opportunity to do so.”

Illustration by Jud Guitteau

Besides cultivating language skills, Vecinos’ mission is to mimic a living environment of a Spanish-speaking country. Students will be required to attend a number of official programs devised by the resident assistant as well as communicate in Spanish, eat Hispanic cuisines, watch Spanish films, experience Spanish cultural offerings, stay abreast of current events in the Spanish-speaking world, and share their knowledge outside the dorm. “Language is only a diving board to understanding other people and cultures,” says Levine. “I hope people will walk through the hall and think they’ve left Ithaca.”


While Levine aspires to create a cultural living environment on campus, the Housing Offering a Multicultural Experience (HOME) program has been doing so for the last five years. HOME is home to many international students, other students who apply and are accepted for residence, and, since last fall, all first-year Martin Luther King Jr. scholars.


To prevent the international students and MLK scholars from becoming isolated from others on campus, the HOME program has a two-year residency limit. “We want our mature international students to stem out into the community,” says Samantha Palmer, a senior from Jamaica and the RA of the program.


HOME residents are required to attend programs and take specific classes relating to diversity. With students of some 70 nationalities on campus, residential life hopes to make the international students’ transition to Ithaca College easier, advance intercultural understanding among all HOME students, and foster a supportive atmosphere.  Palmer, who used to be an RA of a floor without a theme, praises the unique dynamics of HOME. “This is definitely one of the closest-knit communities on campus,” she says. “We look out for each other, lend a helping hand, and give a shoulder to lean on.”


The trend of specialized dorms isn’t relegated to a cultural theme, either. In its inaugural year, the Sustainably Conscious Learning Community has attracted students with an interest in sustainable practices. “I was a little nervous coming in because I didn’t know a lot about sustainability initially,” says Jennifer Wills ’09, the RA of the floor (in Terrace 3). “The residents are very active and knowledgeable. They teach one another.”


SCLC residents also participate in official programs. Wills planned trips to EcoVillage of Ithaca and the Fenner Windpower Project in Fenner, New York, and has invited guest speakers who focus on sustainable concepts. 


The residents are applying sustainable practices in their everyday lives, too. There are drying racks in the laundry room to encourage electricity savings, reusable hand towels instead of paper towels in the bathrooms, and a “ride board” to make carpooling easier. “We are trying to spread sustainable concepts,” says Wills. “We want them to spread to other dorms.”


These communities share goals to create awareness outside their walls. While some may see these communities as exclusive, each community’s “open door” policy suggests otherwise. All programs and trips sponsored by the communities are open to everyone on campus. “I encourage my residents to bring friends to the events,” says Wills.


And Levine, creator of the new Vecinos dorm, wants not only the figurative “open door” policy but a literal one as well. “I’ll encourage the students to be highly interactive,” she says. “I want them to leave their doors open and be willing to talk to everyone.” In Spanish, of course!


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