Why You Should Consider Living at Demarest Hall

By Catherine Geller

Picture of the front of Demarest Hall Picture of the front of Demarest Hall

What’s the very first word that comes to mind when you think of Rutgers? Is it Scarlet Knights? Football? What about “big”? Rutgers is undoubtedly a massive university, with nearly 40,000 students attending the New Brunswick campus alone.

That’s where Demarest Hall comes in. A small special-interest residence hall nestled in the center of the College Avenue campus, alumni have emphasized the unique nature of the dorm, writing that “[Dem] is such a community in itself that to live there was essentially to attend Demarest rather than Rutgers.”

To be more specific, Demarest Hall is quite different from the traditional on-campus dorm. Most students actively choose to live there, rather than receiving it as part of their housing assignment. While the primary purpose is to house students, their tight-knit community for liberal arts-focused students is bustling, enriching, and the main selling point. Residents have the option to meet for weekly discussions of relevant topics in the humanities such as History/Poli Sci, Visual Arts, Cinema Studies, Improv, and Sex, Sexuality, and Gender.

Steven Rosenstark, the Co-President of Residence Concerns, said, “One of the first things people usually say about Dem is that it’s the only dorm where people keep their doors open.

The building itself is unique, too: the first thing you’ll notice is the one-eyed smiley face greeting you as you enter. As resident Michael Leitner says, “we’re the only dorm with a logo.” The dorm rooms have a large variety of dimensions and layouts, as well as gender-neutral bathrooms. And when you venture down, you’ll come across their basement, which is home to the discussion sections, as well as other major events. It’s an open space that is perfect for performances. One of the coolest things, according to the residents, is the Free Expression Room, which is “dedicated to letting any student paint on the walls (as long as there’s no hate speech),” said Leitner.

Back of Demarest Hall

Picture of the back of Demarest Hall

Being a place to share ideas without judgment is crucial to Demarest’s goal of being a student-driven tight-knit residence hall. “I have the mobility to share my ideas or vent about my days or things happening around Rutgers, and hearing feedback or relatability makes me feel more comfortable and allow myself to be vulnerable,” remarked resident Dustin Lugo.

According to residents, Demarest is colloquially known as the “gay dorm” and houses a very wide variety of people, all with their own interests. Rosenstark said this diverse population “makes it so that people are seldom scared to express themselves. Our upperclassmen often lead the charge on that front, being unapologetically enthusiastic about their interests.”

In addition to hosting sections to discuss issues in the humanities, Demarest also arranges entertaining things to do for residents informed by their wants and needs. “This past year we hosted a spa night with face masks and nail painting, a dorm-wide Easter egg hunt, and a bonfire, just to name a few,” said an anonymous RA.

“Because Demarest is a very involved dorm, events usually have a pretty good turnout, and the attendees are engaged in what’s going on. I don’t think I would have been able to have these kinds of discussions if I was in another dorm.”

Aside from engaging the community within the dorm, Demarest also holds various events that attract large crowds of non-residents. Perhaps the most well-known are their “coffeehouses,” monthly themed events where residents can perform all sorts of acts, along with Demarest’s semesterly drag shows. These events are open to the public and attract many non-residents with their quality of talent. At the end of the last school year, the hall held an event called Demfest as well, an annual outdoor music festival.

“It featured nine bands from around the NJ area, including three that were formed in Dem!” said Rosenstark. “We signed in over 600 current students throughout the day and had hundreds more attendees, including lots of alumni.” Beyond the turnout success, they also fundraised $1,000 for New Brunswick Tomorrow, a local charity aimed at improving the lives of all New Brunswick residents.

The community that Demarest has cultivated over the past 56 years couldn’t be more important now for the Gen-Z student. Since opening, the residents have continued to find ways to make the community more inclusive for generations to come, including gender-neutral student housing and bathrooms. Fostering a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community continues to be one of its main priorities.

The community cultivated at the hall continues to be a lighthouse in the big sea of Rutgers for many undergraduates. Many students noted how it made Rutgers feel smaller and helped get rid of some of the difficulty of making friends. “It’s hard to not grow fond of the people you live with when you have so much in common and spend so much time together,” said Rosenstark. “It’s hard to say you aren’t friends with someone when you spend hours each week with them discussing philosophy, sexuality, politics, and more.”

While many of the topics discussed in these sections are relevant for the liberal arts student, anyone can live at Demarest, no matter their major. “Anyone who wants a tight knit community and who is willing to keep an open mind [will thrive here]. Although we’re typically seen as a very artsy dorm, you don’t need to be artsy to find your place here. Part of the beauty of Demarest is listening to other people and hearing about their experiences and interests and learning from one another,” said the anonymous RA.

“From someone who simply wants gender neutral options and a nice courtyard and basement to someone who is looking to participate in weekly discussions and loves to see live music at our coffeehouses, I hope that many people can find a comfortable home in Demarest at whatever level of involvement they want,” Leitner said.

Demarest Hall is open to students of any year and major. You can apply through Residence Life on the Rutgers Room Selection Portal when it opens up at the beginning of the Spring 2023 Semester.

You can also find more information about Demarest Hall at their housing website (http://ruoncampus.rutgers.edu/demarest-hall/), or find them on Instagram (@demaresthallevents)