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James Dean watches over Leanna Hicks as she sleeps each night from a poster that hangs above her bed.
If she sleeps lying on her right side, the photos of New York’s skyscrapers and taxi caps might leave visions of the Big Apple dancing in her head. If she happens to fall on her left side, a dashing Frank Sinatra might fly her to the moon.
The Catawba Colleges sophomore has decorated her dorm room inside Stanback Hall with a Hollywood theme. Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Elvis Presley, along with the cast of The Muppets, also grace the walls.
“I major in theatre performance here and I have always been a lover of classic Hollywood movies,” Hicks said. “My room is stashed with a lot of stuff that my mom introduced me to when I was a kid because we’re a big theatre family.
“My room kind of speaks to what I’m really interested in in life.”
Hicks said she’s collected the memorabilia over a number of years, picking it up at various stores and even buying a few posters on campus during a sale last year.
Her Hollywood theme continues with a filmstrip picture frame hanging from the wall and a pillow donning a photo of the Brooklyn Bridge resting on her “couch.”
The couch is actually a bed that Hicks has pushed against the wall. As a resident assistant, she doesn’t have a roommate, so she has a bit more space to herself.
“I wanted people to have a place to sit when they come to hang out,” she said.
The mattress of the spare bed is covered with a fitted sheet and bright pink throw pillows that Hicks purchased from Big Lots.
The linens in Hicks’ room are primarily black and white to give it that “old Hollywood feel.”
“I love pink, but I don’t want to consume my room with it, so I thought having black and white with pink accents would make sense,” she said.
Marie Datcher, a junior resident assistant at Livingstone College, has also fashioned her dorm room in Babcock Hall with a theme — it’s all about the Redskins.
A native of Washington, D.C., Datcher said it makes her “feel at home.”
Blue, which is Datcher’s favorite color” is also prevalent in the room.
“I have a blue rug, bedspread and sheets,” she said.
Datcher’s walls are also plastered with photos of friends and family.
“I bring a lot of things with me to make me feel like home,” she said.
Senior resident assistant Jacob Jester’s room inside Catawba’s Foil House is more eclectic.
“I’ve got a little bit of everything – music, sports, comedy,” he said. “It’s a little bit different from my room at home because I kind of kept that in the past.
“Every year I get to do something new here.”
Triangular pennants with his favorite sports teams the St. Louis Cardinals and Kannapolis Intimidators hang just above his bed.
“You gotta support the home team,” said Jester, a China Grove native.
A Foo Fighters poster is hung over his desk, which is home to a Pittsburgh Steelers nutcracker.
The stars of the room, however, are Jester’s large old-school television and sky blue sofa – items he obtained without spending a penny.
Jester said the sofa came from a friend who moved to Maine.
“He didn’t really have a way to take it back and I wanted it, so we had to do some bargaining,” he said. “He wanted an Xbox to play, so I gave him my Xbox and all my games for his couch and movie projector.”
There was no bartering involved in obtaining the TV, Jester simply found left behind in a dorm room after people moved out last year.
Sitting atop the TV is a framed photographer of Jester’s girlfriend along with a colorful hand drum she bought him back from Nigeria.
“You’ve got to set up the room around the TV,” he said. “I had a big huge bed set up here, but the TV wasn’t going to fit, so I took the bed apart.”
Jester’s been savvy during his time at Catawba, buying most of his items from Walmart or bartering with fellow classmates.
“That’s how I’ve accumulated most of my stuff,” he said.
He admits his room now is much different than it was when he first arrived on campus three years ago.
“A big thing I’ve picked up on was the posters and decorating the walls,” he said. “My freshman year the walls were just plain white.”
Hicks said she recommends freshmen focus on the essentials when thinking about what to pack for college.
“They obviously need stuff for their bed and things like a microwave and refrigerator,” she said. “Bring stuff that you know you cannot live without even in a small space.”
Jester suggested packing items that will make the space more inviting.
“Bring stuff that’s going to make you feel comfortable, make you feel at home,” he said.
Datcher said having a lot of photos is a good way to make a dorm room a comfortable space.
She also said to “choose wisely” when packing clothing.
“There are two people to a room, so everything that you have at home is not going to fit,” she said. “If you’re coming now for the fall semester, I would say bring summer clothes because it’s really hot and when you go home for Thanksgiving break switch them out for something warmer.”
Hicks said students should remember to bring basics that might not top their lists. That includes things like dishes, trash cans and band aids.
“And Clorox wipes, Lord sweet Jesus, Clorex wipes,” she said. “Just sayin.’”
Those who plan to bunk their beds might have space to bring furniture like a sofa or couch.
Jester said he’s also seen rooms with hammocks.
“That’s pretty cool,” he said.
The most key piece of advice Hicks has to offer is to talk to your roommate.
“You don’t want to bring two of the same things,” she said.
Kara Ostlund, associate dean for housing and residential life at Catawba, and George Montgomery, Livingstone’s residence hall director, both offer sage advice for incoming students.
“The best thing I always tell students is to check your college or university’s website for things that you should not bring,” Ostlund said. “Usually, there’s a bunch of times that students need to pay attention to.”
Ostlund said it’s also important to note the wattage requirements for refrigerators and microwaves.
“Most colleges have older buildings that have been renovated, but you’re less likely to blow a fuse if you pay attention to those requirements,” she said.
Ostlund said students should make sure to bring things that remind them of home.
“Whether that be pictures or your favorite stuffed animal or maybe you’ve had the same blanket or pillow forever,” she said. “You need something around for those times when you do get homesick.”
Montgomery said one way for students to make sure they have most of their essentials on day one is by purchasing an “all in one” set that includes bedding, a lamp and trash can.
“That gives the room a nice uniform look and provides students with everything they’ll need to start off with,” he said.
Montgomery said students can also buy throw rugs to put over their carpet to add color to the room.
“It’s just something different,” he said.
Small bulletin boards and dry erase boards can also be a great asset, Montgomery said.
“Students can makes notes to remind them about study groups and other things they need to remember,” he said.
Ostlund said she suggests purchasing curtains to “soften up the room.”
“It makes it look less industrialized and more homelike,” she said.
Wall decals are another way to make a room more inviting.
“They are easy to pull off and you can buy them at the Dollar Store,” Ostlund said. “It’s a way to add character to the walls when you can’t use paint and you don’t have any posters.”
Purchasing Command adhesive strips is another good idea, Ostlund said.
“They are nice because they hang up so much and they don’t tear off the wall when you take them down,” she said. “(The strips) keep students from punching holes in the halls that can cause damage that will potentially lead to a bill.”
According to Ostlund, bringing along a lock box of some sort for valuables is also a good idea.
“You don’t always know who you’re living with,” she said. “It’s important for students to look out for themselves and do what they can to ensure their belongings are safe.”
Both Ostlund and Montgomery said the primary thing students forget to pack is power strips.
Overall, Ostlund suggests packing light.
“Students bring way more than they typically need,” she said. “I’ve seen people loading up a U-Haul and I say, ‘Oh that’s going to be a rude awakening when they arrive.’
“It’s not just your room, you’re sharing it with someone else and I think oftentimes students forget that.”
Montgomery said move-in days typically go more smoothly for those students who arrive early.
“The sooner you can get out, the better off you’ll be,” he said. “Typically the people who get here first thing in the morning are the people who are in their building and have their room set up by midday.”
Ostlund said students should consider bringing a hand truck along on move-in day to make the task easier.
“I think a lot of students come to college thinking there is going to be one here …,” she said. “Some buildings have elevators, some don’t; all the help you can have is wonderful.”
After students get settled in, Ostlund suggests bunking the beds.
“That allows students to have more space, which opens up the doors for a lot more character,” she said.
The next thing to do is sit down and have a conversation with your roommate, Ostlund said.
“One of the biggest pieces of advice I have is to communicate on all levels,” she said. “There are a lot of conflicts and arguments that can happen because of lack of communication.
“It’s important to work with each other to make sure you’re both being respectful, and that’s starts on day one.”

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