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Dorm away from home

Freshmen settle into their spaces with unique decor and personal touches

With the fall semester in full swing, many first-time campus residents are personalizing their new spaces to unite their identities as college students with their childhood homes.

"I make sure that when I'm out here I don't forget where I'm from and people know that I’m from Somerton," said Luis Encinas, a freshman studying management.

Encinas lives in Irish Hall currently, but his hometown is located in Yuma County, Arizona.

"I feel very honored to be out here representing it," said Encinas.

Above his bed, Encinas hung a Somerton pendant. Around his room he has art he purchased near his home, such as a record painted with Michael Meyers and a repurposed saw blade painted with Raphael the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. He said he got the pieces from an artist at YumaCon

Encinas said his favorite piece in his room is a vintage Coca-Cola calendar from his sister.

Luis Encinas’s room in Irish Hall in Tempe, on Sept. 18, 2023.

Malena Duque-Baird, a freshman in the business exploratory program living in Agave Hall, surrounded herself with pieces from her home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She has a pillow resembling her cat, as well as a cutting of a plant from her home which she said, "It's surviving, but it's not thriving. Yet."

Duque-Baird and her suitemate Danielle Scherz, a freshman studying marketing, each have a wall covered in photos of friends and hometown memories. 

The pair met over the housing portal and each moved from different states to attend ASU. In the corridor connecting their rooms they have formed a new collection: Polaroids of all of their college friends.

Dorm decorations in Malena Duque-Baird and Danielle Scherz's room in Agave Hall in Tempe on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023.

Duque-Baird and Scherz said their suite became a hang out for their group of friends on the floor after Scherz started propping her door open and inviting people in. This led Scherz to customize her room as a more social place. 

"I got the couch because all my friends were sitting on the floor and I was like, 'I want to give them a place to sit,'" Scherz said. 

For the freshmen, this freedom to make a space unique to them is an exciting challenge. Before coming to college, Encinas said he felt more restrictions with how he could decorate. He would often have to wait for his dad in order to hang up art. 

"But now that I'm really here by myself, I'm a long way from home," Encinas said. "There's so much creative freedom, I see a blank canvas everywhere."

However, dormitories do come with restrictions. There are rules, for example, on how art and decorations can be secured to the walls. 

"I did have to get creative with how to hang up certain things," Encinas said. "Like the lights for example."

Though Scherz got to decorate her own room back home, she said the design always involved her mom's input. When she moved into the dorm, Scherz brought her own vision to life. 

"My own space is something that I've wanted for a long time," Scherz said.

Danielle Scherz's room in Agave Hall in Tempe on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023.

During move in, both Duque-Baird and Scherz said they needed to buy many essentials. 

Duque-Baird started by looking for dorm inspiration on Pinterest, then went shopping after coming to Tempe. 

"I was just at Target and IKEA for like 12 hours. And I was running all around with my mom and my brother and it was so much fun," Duque-Baird said.

Scherz took the online approach. She said she mainly ordered dorm decor from Amazon, as well as Dormify. Her mom helped her pay to customize her room, which she said cost "quite a bit of money."

Both Encinas and Duque-Baird found ways to add color to their spaces for free. Encinas hung a free poster from the ASU Art Museum above his desk. Duque-Baird cut pages of paintings out of an old art calendar and put them up around her room, along with canvases from her high school art class.

"People will come in and they'll be like, 'did you make that?' And I have to decide if I really want to tell them the truth," she said about the art calendar pages.

With years of college ahead, these students have the opportunity to develop their unique room styles.

"I think there's still so much more that I could do," Encinas said. 

Edited by Claire van Doren, Alexis Waiss and Grace Copperthite

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