By Anaridis Rodriguez

BOSTON (CBS) – Towering over the corner of Stuart and Tremont is the W Hotel. By the entrance, luggage carts sit empty and the valet is quiet. But stand outside long enough and you’ll notice college students, donning backpacks and buzzing in and out of its doors. The hotel is housing nearly 200 Emerson College students for the fall semester.

“My freshman year at Emerson I was in an eight-person suite. It was much different than having my own single in the hotel,” said Emerson senior Hanna El-Mohandess. “We were all sharing one bathroom.”

El-Mohandess is a resident assistant, and by many standards, her housing experience is the definition of luxury. Floor to ceiling windows give way to world-class views, her king-sized bed is nestled up against elaborate trim molding, and her bathroom shower is set in lavish stone. She even has an espresso machine.

The accommodations are a byproduct of the pandemic. As Emerson efforts a plan to “de-densify” its campus, hotels have found new ways to bring back business. Emerson is one of several Boston institutions partnering with area hotels to offer safe housing and in-person instruction.

“It’s kind of surreal walking into my room. There are barely any double rooms. Most people are in singles. They can go through the world a little more contained,” El-Mohandess said. “The only thing that people have noticed, which would be the same across campus, is that this semester feels a little more isolated.”

The seclusion is disappointing for sophomore Nina Khosla, who had plans to play lacrosse. The aspiring comedic arts performer also belongs to a comedy troupe and was looking forward to building her skills amongst her peers.

“It’s hard to look at the comedic side of life. There’s been a lot of stress and uncertainty lately. It’s been tough,” Khosla said. “Lacrosse hasn’t been cancelled it’s a spring sport. But I want to make sure my teammates and I and the Emerson community are being safe. I want to be able to play again. We can really only do that if it’s safe and if everything is according to standards and guidelines.”

Emerson’s standards are strict. Within the dorms, no outside guests are allowed. Across campus, students are tested once a week and must fill out daily questionnaires to self-report symptoms. Compliance is tracked digitally and connected to a student’s ID.

“You tap into buildings with those IDs. If you fail to complete your symptom check survey, your tap access will be shut off from other buildings,” said El-Mohandess.

The privilege of living in luxury doesn’t appear to be lost on the students. As they navigate a far from typical, but functional, college experience – that’s fitting in the age of a pandemic.

“We have to be very conscious,” Khosla said. “And aware that this is somebody else’s luxury property. They take great care of it and we should to.”

Anaridis Rodriguez

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