There’s something about the comfort that comes from shared spaces on campus. Some students stop in these spaces every once in a while, only visiting for a moment. Other students use them in their daily routine: going to Starbucks every morning for breakfast, working outside by the pond before class, playing basketball at the GO during golden hour.
It’s 4:40 p.m. on a Thursday and students gather in the makeshift Writer’s Room, a used-to-be therapy practice room located in the Roberts Music building. It’s now a creative writing space for students to work on writing assignments and hold workshops. The worst of the day’s heat settles in, humidity soaking into those still outside. Inside the Writer’s Room, the air conditioner whirs quietly, chilling the room and those in it.
This room tends to open every morning at times ranging from 8 to 10 a.m. Most mornings, students call Campus Safety to be let into the locked room, or wait for a professor to let them in. Every Tuesday and Thursday, like clockwork, a group of students show up to get their creative juices flowing on their next writing assignment or other homework, hanging out, bouncing ideas off one another. Laughter floats around the room most mornings, escaping into the world when the door opens.
There’s a smell reminiscent of your grandparents’ basement or an old church storage room. The more humid it gets outside, the deeper the smell gets stuck in your nostrils. Various sizes and shapes of chairs and a velvet-feeling chocolate brown couch line the walls offering a place of solace for writers.
Roberts 106, while not used for the sole purpose of writing, has become a safe haven for students in the creative writing major and a gathering space for the Writer’s Room, a club that focuses on workshopping writing pieces. This space has been taken over by these creative individuals and repurposed.
On one of the walls, a poster for the Sexy Poetry 2 event it tacked beneath a broken clock that shows the time is 4:46, which is only accurate twice a day. To the left of that, a two-way mirror is embedded in the wall. While it used to be for practice therapy session observations, it now looks into a storage closet. Lamps light the room in a random dotting of pale white-blue light. From one corner of the room, you can look out the window into the Robert’s courtyard. Occasionally a student walks, skateboards or bikes by.
Clever words and furry friends
On any given day, a particular group of students can be seen in this room. Among them is Madison Mathias, a senior majoring in creative writing. Mathias is often curled up in her favorite spot in the room on a chocolate brown couch, notebook and pen in hand, working on her next story. Leonard, her Italian greyhound, joins her most of the time. A resounding “Lenny!” can be heard from each student as they enter the room, all of them excited to see Mathias’ furry friend. Most Thursday nights when the Writer’s Room club meets, other members’ dogs join the creative process.
“It’s sort of like a common area where you never know who you’re going to run into,” Mathias said. “It’s dog friendly. It’s my homework time.”
Mathias says she spends 15 hours or more a week in the Writer’s Room.
Across the room from Mathias sits Associate Professor of Creative Writing Jonathan Chopan. He uses this space to write. Chopan has been at Eckerd College for 11 years, mentoring many students in the process. Mathias is one of his mentees.
“It’s like having a really supportive parent while you’re away at school. It’s definitely made it better. When we went to London he became sort of the dad of the house and took everyone under his wing and that continued back onto campus,” Mathias said.
Mathias recently spent the spring 2022 semester as well as January of 2023 in London with Chopan on study abroad trips. Most of the students who frequent the Writer’s Room have been to London with Chopan. He has been their writing guru, the one to push them to become better storytellers. They have experienced his teaching style in Eckerd classrooms and also across the Atlantic.
The Writer’s Room is their little piece of London on Eckerd’s campus. London-themed playing cards are haphazardly stacked on one side table on top of a notepad with the scores of a card game permanently etched onto its surface. This same card game was played in London, almost nightly, by many of the students and Chopan.
“Studying abroad is a wonderful experience that has helped me grow as both a teacher and a mentor,” Chopan said. “Being with students outside of a conventional class has forced me to expand what and how I teach and has given me the opportunity to know my students in a way that we don’t in the course of a normal (on-campus) classroom.”
Chopan’s office walls boast his many memories in London: a map of London with song titles sung at a karaoke bar sharpied over the streets; a canvas created by one of his students shows pictures of key moments from a trip; a Spider Man poster full of quotes hangs beside them; a hanging stained glass “35” glimmers in the light; and book ends in the shape of a classic double-decker red bus hold up travel guides his classes have written and published. A “no smoking” sticker in the design of a “mind the gap” sign is stuck ironically to his office door.
A British transformation
Anna Fraser can often be found in the Writer’s Room with her shih tzu-bichon, Toby. She too studied abroad with Chopan in spring 2022 and for Winter Term 2023. She is also a member of the Writer’s Room and a senior majoring in animal studies and theater.
She said her time in London broadened her horizons in ways she couldn’t have predicted before she went.
“It changed my perspective on what I could do in life, what I’m able to do, what I want to do,” Fraser said. “It caused me to gain independence. I became more comfortable with myself. It’s a forced broadening of your experience in every way possible.”
On May 21, Mathias, along with Fraser, will walk across a black makeshift stage under a white tent on Kappa field, grab their diplomas, toss their decorated caps into the air, and complete their time here at Eckerd College. Chopan will be sitting with the rest of the professors, watching his mentees graduate. After the ceremony, Fraser will return homehas with plans to attend grad school in her future. In July, Mathias will go off to Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina to work towards getting her master’s degree in writing, but her mentorship with Chopan will continue on even through the 580 miles of distance.
“There’s something almost magical about study abroad that just brings people together that you otherwise wouldn’t meet and it brings you closer together,” Mathias said.
Students only get four years at Eckerd College. But those who are lucky enough to come here, and those who are even luckier to be able to study abroad, they leave with memories, relationships, and experiences they will never forget. Just ask anyone who frequents the Writer’s Room what their favorite Eckerd memory is and chances are it will involve this room, London or Professor Chopan.
But to experience it all, Fraser said, you have to be willing to make the leap to Eckerd, to study abroad and to find your tribe, writing or otherwise.
“Take the jump, it’s worth it,” Fraser said. “Every time I did I never regretted it. I found a community of people I feel safe and comfortable with. I trust their judgment that when they say I’ll be safe on the other side if I take the jump they mean it.”