May 12, 2003

Building a community at Clairmont

By Eric Rangus

The carpet is stainless. The furniture, brand new. The appliances, top-of-the-line. The bathrooms, humongous.

This is a residence hall?

Welcome to the undergraduate residential center on the Clairmont Campus. After more than two years of new construction and nearly $70 million in new facilities, the Clairmont Campus has made a smashing debut during the 2002–03 academic year.

Home to 1,500 undergraduate and graduate students, a handful of staff members and a growing number of faculty, the Clairmont Campus has become—and by all accounts should remain—the address of choice for many in the Emory community.

“Before I moved here, I thought it might be too good to be true,” said Natasha D’Souza, a senior political science major from Bergenfield, N.J. D’Souza previously lived in Alabama Hall and the Woodruff Residential Center before moving to the Tower Apartments on the Clairmont Campus her junior year, then to the new undergraduate residential center last fall. “But this is the nicest place I am ever going to live.”

That may be a bit of hyperbole, but Clairmont certainly is the crown jewel of University Housing. Each apartment in the undergraduate center houses four students, each of whom has an individual phone line. The apartments are connected by a kitchen (with all the appliance amenities), living space and bookended by two full bathrooms. Graduate apartments come in one-, two- and three-bedroom varieties, giving graduate students with spouses and/or children needed flexibility.

It’s the best of both worlds, D’Souza said. There is privacy in that she has her own room and can close the door when she wants, plus there is the communal area where everyone is free to come and go as they please.

And there’s the benefit of a perfect view from her window of Clairmont’s newest gathering spot: the Student Activity and Academic Center (SAAC). “Sometimes I feel like I’m at a resort or an upscale country club,” D’Souza said. “It doesn’t always feel like a college campus.”


Perhaps the only knock on the new Grille Works, located in the newly opened SAAC, is that it doesn’t accept debit or credit cards—only cash or EmoryCards.

The food is outstanding and reasonably priced. The bacon cheeseburger, probably the unhealthiest thing on the grille’s menu (on any menu probably) is tasty and not too greasy.

The healthier fare is top of the line, as well, at least according to Frank Gaertner, SAAC director (turkey and red pepper sandwich) and Lisa DeMik, assistant director of residence life for Clairmont Campus (salmon spicy roll sushi).

“This has been my favorite place to work,” said DeMik, who came to Emory in 1999 and has served as south and east area director on the main campus for University Housing prior to moving to Clairmont. DeMik is one of six staff members who live on campus.

While her apartment in the tower is being renovated over the summer, she will be living in the graduate residential center.

“It’s been challenging, but in a very good way,” said Gaertner, who has worked in Residence Life and University Conferences since coming to Emory 10 years ago. With his move to the SAAC, Gaertner broke new professional ground. “I didn’t have any experience in facilities when I got here, but it’s been a lot of fun. The students have been great.”

The SAAC literally overflows with facilities. Inside are the Grille Works, a gymnasium large enough for two simultaneous full-court basketball games, a workout area, full locker facilities (the full-use lockers are cherry wood), a mail room and a variety of classrooms and seminar rooms

Several spaces are set aside for socializing and studying. Some areas have tables and sofas as cushy as any in the Miller-Ward Alumni House, and ringing the gym are several circular tables, perfect for schoolwork or people-watching on the court. It’s common for students to hop on the C Shuttle from the main campus and come to the SAAC to study or hang out.

Nowhere on the Clairmont Campus is country club appearance more visible than from the SAAC’s back porch. Even the splinterless patio furniture screams plush.

“This is my favorite place to sit,” Gaertner said, looking out over the wide expanse of the SAAC’s exterior facilities.

In the distance is the pristine graduate residential center, and in front of that are the SAAC’s swimming pools, seven tennis courts, outdoor basketball and volleyball courts and athletic field. On a good day, it is impossible to get a seat by the Olympic-size pool.
All students, no matter where they live, can use the SAAC’s facilities free of charge. Faculty and staff must pay a yearly fee.

Gaertner and his staff didn’t move into the SAAC until Feb. 7 (two weeks before it opened), which led to a lot of 12-hour days and some even longer. For instance, last week was the first time since she moved to the SAAC that assistant director Mary Romestant worked a five-day week. Even now SAAC staff are discovering how versatile their new home is.

One of the classrooms is slated to become a computer room once the hardware arrives. The gym can be converted into a banquet hall in just minutes, or to a movie theater with a flick of a switch to release the large screen on the far wall.


Building a community at Clairmont hasn’t always been a smooth road. Since hallways are exterior, there is no incentive for residents to open their doors like in other residence halls. With few natural elements bringing people together, that has the led the housing staff to be creative.

“We’ve had a high learning curve,” DeMik said. “Some of the things that work on the main campus don’t work here. This is a different population that is looking for different things.”

For example, as social activities go, movie nights in hall common areas often are good draws on the main campus, attracting as many as 20 students at a time. At Clairmont, they have been much less successful.

Instead, programming with international students in mind (a great deal live at Clairmont) or mixers for graduate students has been much more successful. “Graduate students enjoy interacting with people outside their programs,” DeMik said.

A kid’s club for the children of graduate students, English as a second language classes and nights out to Braves games for residents have been popular activities.

Residential faculty have done their part to assimilate into the community as well: University Secretary Gary Hauk has hosted programs on Emory’s history; Lisa Carlson, adjunct associate professor in Department of Behavioral Science and Health Education in the Rollins School of Public Health, has sponsored speakers from the CDC as well as Rollins. Each residential faculty member in fact has taken part in a variety of programming.

One of the biggest successes in bringing together people on campus at Clairmont has been guest speakers. Guests from India, Germany, Morocco and several other countries have visited with students. DeMik said that instead of posting flyers, residents are personally invited to events, and attendance is high—sometimes drawing as many as 50 people.


The campus is still a work in progress. Construction work, while much of it is finished, is still going on around the tower. And new amenities pop up seemingly every day—a new recycle bin in the SAAC here, a swipe-card machine outside graduate housing there.

Concrete is pretty ubiquitous, from the massive Clairmont Campus Parking Deck (affectionately nicknamed the “Garage Mahal”) to the exterior corridors of the residential centers (which make them feel like a motel off the perimeter), and the beige-ness of the main buildings can be overwhelming.

But the campus also is quite beautiful. Green spaces and trees and brick sidewalks abound, and since automobile traffic is limited to the campus perimeter, walking is by far the preferred mode of transportation.

The Clairmont Campus is a lot more than an apartment complex/playground for its residents and other members of the Emory community. Its 64 acres also include the Clifton School, which provides child care for members of the Emory community; the Hope Lodge for cancer patients and their families; the Mason Guest House for organ transplant recipients and their families; and the Autism Research Center, which is the state’s most comprehensive provider of services for children and adults with autism.

“The vast majority of residents are very happy,” DeMik said. “The undergraduates adore it here. A community is coming together.”