Emily Jones ’11 remembers the anger and curiosity she felt when she learned about single-room occupancy hotels (SROs) in San Francisco.
“It felt like this was the city’s way of keeping San Francisco’s poorest residents out of sight and out of mind, and that really angered me,” Jones says. “Two years later when it came time to develop a research project for Urban Studies, I knew that I wanted to focus on learning about SROs by going beyond the statistics and really getting to know some of the people that call SROs home.”
That research project turned into a recently completed honors thesis for Jones, an Urban Studies major from Saratoga, Calif. Advised by Professor Donald A. Barr of Human Biology, Jones aimed to put a human face on the SRO experience and inform service providers through her thesis.
In an email interview with Urbanter, Jones, 22, shared her tips on thesis-writing, the rewards of her project and where she will take her academic and extracurricular interests next year.
Jones, whose Urban Studies concentration is urban society and social change, has interned at the Orosco Group, a private developer in the Monterey area run by Patrick Orosco ’98, a former Stanford Urban Studies student, and at Mid-Peninsula Housing, an affordable-housing developer. At Stanford, she is the founder and past president of ASPIRE, the Association of Students Promoting Innovation in Real Estate, and a resident assistant in Branner. Jones was twice a teaching assistant for Urban Studies 113, “Introduction to Urban Design.”
Urbanter (U): What is the topic of your research?
Emily Jones (EJ): My thesis is about the experiences of eight residents of Single Room Occupancy Hotels (SROs) in San Francisco. An SRO is a type of low income, dormitory style housing for adults–they are a step above homelessness, but a long way down from traditional apartment living. My exploratory study aims at gaining a better understanding of what daily life in an SRO hotel is like, how tenants have come to live there, and what challenges residents face. I found that the main forces that shape SRO tenants’ lives are weak social networks, substance abuse, mental illness, and poor planning ability. My thesis explores the connections and interactions between these themes from the perspective of the tenant, and I offer recommendations about how tenants’ quality of life can be improved given the needs they expressed. Ultimately, I hope this will help organizations that run SROs to improve the quality of services they offer.
U: Why did you choose this topic?
EJ: I had never even heard the term “SRO” until my freshman year at Stanford when I went with a student group to serve food to the homeless in the Tenderloin in San Francisco. Rather than serving food at a soup kitchen like I thought we would be doing, we were sent to SROs to offer boxed meals to tenants. I was originally really confused about why we were bringing food to a “hotel,” but then someone explained to me that SROs were where many of the city’s formerly homeless and low-income individuals lived. It felt like this was the city’s way of keeping San Francisco’s poorest residents out of sight and out of mind, and that really angered me. Two years later when it came time to develop a research project for Urban Studies, I knew that I wanted to focus on learning about SROs by going beyond the statistics and really getting to know some of the people that call SROs home.
U: Describe the past week in a word.
EJ: Awesome (I turned in my thesis last Friday and planned things so that I wouldn’t leave anything til the last minute – so I haven’t been too stressed).
U: What part of the process was most rewarding?
EJ: Spending hours and hours transcribing my interviews. Just kidding.
The most rewarding part of my thesis was connecting with SRO tenants. These individuals are some of the most eclectic, funny, interesting, and [kooky] people I have ever met. I loved hearing their stories and getting to know them.
It’s also incredibly rewarding to now have a finished product of over a year’s worth of work in-hand. When I started forming a research question in winter 2010, the task of writing 50+ pages about a single topic seemed so daunting. I can’t believe it has all finally come together!!
U: What advice would you have for sophomores and juniors planning on doing research?
EJ: My #1 piece of advice, especially for thesis writers, would be to start early and plan ahead. Set deadlines for yourself on when certain parts should be finished, and stick to them. It’s harder than you might think to do that when you’re working independently because you can get into telling yourself that you’ll “do it later,” especially when you have deadlines looming for other classes or there are fun things you want to do with your friends. Keep yourself accountable by telling your thesis advisor, or even a friend, when you will be turning in particular parts. That kept me motivated to make progress. Also, the stacks in Green Library are your best friend. I let myself get sidetracked a lot when I worked in my room, but whenever I blocked out a chunk of time for thesis writing in the stacks, I was always super productive. By planning ahead and doing your best to stick to the deadlines that you set for yourself, you’ll find that writing a thesis is not nearly as stressful as many people say it is.
U: Plans for next year?
EJ: I’ll be working at CB Richard Ellis, a commercial real estate services firm, in New York City. I’m part of the 2011 Wheel Program, which is an 18-month rotation program where I will rotate through different business lines in the company every three months. I’ll be doing everything from Market Research to Brokerage to Consulting so that I learn the ins and outs of the Manhattan commercial real estate market.
This post is part of an Urbanter series spotlighting Urban Studies seniors and their honors theses. Contact Emily at email@example.com. Contact Urbanter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images: Stuck in Customs/Creative Commons; courtesy of Emily Jones.