When a college house is a home

I almost feel like Hemingway while sitting in the forest-green wicker chairs inside Café Prima. However, there are no bulls, I probably won’t get into a fight and Harrison College House is nowhere near Paris. Maybe I feel more like John Cusack.

When I first heard that there was a café in a student residence hall, my first thought was of Pop-Tarts and single servings of scorching hot Ellis coffee. Then again, I went to a state school. Café Prima is something else. It has everything that Starbucks has at a fraction of the cost.

“Our focus is to service our residents,” said Resident Advisor Erin Moss (C’01). Harrison, I’m told, is the maverick of the high rise college houses. At the initial glance, it’s hard to tell what separates the Harrison College House Lego-block structure from any of the others. The café is one of the telling differences. A video library, still in the early stages of planning, is another. Otherwise, the students drag themselves out of the elevators, past the café and into the crisp early October autumn morning.

Kim Slonaker was tired, but she still managed a smile.

“I had to go to the computer lab at 2 o’clock in the morning to print something out,” she said with a sigh.

In front of Café Prima, a brightly lettered placard advertised jazz Friday night. It was also the same evening of the farewell dinner for popular House Dean Art Casciato, who recently resigned after being named director of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (Current, Oct. 26).

“He was the reason I came to live here,” Slonaker said. “I worked for him as a freshman. He was very accessible. He cared about the students and listened to them. If there was a problem, he was right on top of it.”

Richard Haavisto has taken over the position of house dean. For Haavisto, a former graduate associate at Harrison under Casciato, the transition has been a bit difficult. “It’s been hard to come in after Art. The students have high expectations.

“He put a lot of effort into meeting the students, and it has made a big difference.”
Moss said of Haavisto’s appointment, “None of the staff are worried. He’s going to the same extent to make everyone feel welcomed.”

The view from the rooftop lounge was enough to make me forget about the rest of my day. I’m a fan of heights, and from here the view of campus gave me that “Dead Poets Society” feeling that I’m looking at things from a different angle — the way Harrison House looks at things.

In the early afternoon a handful of students were shooting pool on one of the four billiard tables. The café was empty and the only place that saw any sustained activity was still in front of the elevators.

“It’s not exactly exciting,” Slonaker said. “It’s just homey.”


Originally published on November 9, 2000