The Vogue Room Foundation Designs Dream Dorms for First-Gen College Students

North Carolina-based interior designer Ebony Staten started The Vogue Room Foundation to help first-generation, minority students transition to college life.
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Updated on September 19, 2023
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The 2023 Dorm Room Makeover. Image courtesy of The Vogue Room Foundation

  • Ebony Staten, a North Carolina-based interior designer, created The Vogue Room Foundation, a nonprofit to help minority first-generation college students design their dorm rooms.
  • Since 2018, Staten has decorated nine students, including three this fall 2023 semester.
  • The foundation also offers dorm room packages that include all the necessities that any student may need in their first dorm room.

North Carolina-based interior designer Ebony Staten said the inspiration for the nonprofit The Vogue Room Foundation first came to her from an Instagram post by Michelle Obama in which she discussed being a first-generation college student.

The former first lady's experience felt familiar to Staten, who was the first person in her immediate family to graduate from college.

I had my great Oprah (Winfrey) Aha moment, and I'm like, Why don't I use my skills and pour them into a first-generation college student? I'm going to decorate a first-generation college student's dorm this year, she told BestColleges.

Staten used some connections she had with the local school system to get the word out about her foundation, and two students applied in the first year. The winner, picked by Staten, was an incoming first-year student at North Carolina Central University, the same school where Staten earned her bachelor's and master's degrees.

Five years later, six students have designed their dream room with Staten, with three more getting the opportunity this fall.

You just want to feel confident when you do go off to college. And so that is the purpose of this whole dorm room makeover because when you have a good space, you feel good, you look good, and you have high confidence, Staten said.

We believe that investing in a quality dorm room space will help students maximize their educational goals.

The first dorm room that Staten designed in 2018

Dorm Room Makeovers

The application to be the next #DormRoomDeckOut opens in the spring of each year and includes several questions for the applicant to answer. Staten said the meat of the application is an essay or video about what being a first-generation college student means.

To be considered, the applicant must be a minority student, be the first in their immediate family to attend a four-year college/university to earn a bachelor's degree, and be attending a college or university in Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, or Virginia for the upcoming school year.

Over 100 students applied to have their rooms decorated by Staten for the 2023-2024 school year. The total number of winners selected depends on that year's funding, Staten says, with one or two students usually selected.

This year, three students were chosen to have their dream dorm room makeover — the most ever in the foundation's five-year history.

Staten this fall will design dream dorm rooms for Damarion King, a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta; Trinity Patterson, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Samantha Torres-Rosado, a student at Davidson College in North Carolina.

It's like the student is the client and I am the designer, Staten said.

From beginning to end, the student has a say. We create mood boards. We figure out what color scheme they like, what they dislike, what sayings or quotes they want on their wall, or whatever they want. We tried to make that happen for them.

2020 Vogue Foundation Dorm Makeover

Destiny Jackson, the 2022 Dorm Room Makeover recipient, told BestColleges she described her dream space as bright, comfortable, with influences of singer and dancer Teyana Taylor.

I described to her my personality and how I wanted my room to be bright and reflect some of my favorite artists, she said.

She sent me a layout of everything and honestly, it was more than what I actually thought it was gonna be. It was super, super cool. I was like, yes, I love this!

Jackson, entering her third year at Spelman College, also said the deck out gave her items needed for beyond her first year in college, including wall art and study supplies.

There were a lot of items that I received during the dorm makeover that are still in my room today, she said. They make my room still come to life. I honestly love it because I can reuse these items.

Destiny Jackson’s dorm room

College Dreamer Packages

While The Vogue Room Foundation offers a few full dorm room deckouts every year, many other students can receive college dreamer packages through the foundation. They are offered in 10-, 25-, or 50-piece sets that include all the necessities that any student may need in their first dorm room.

It's all of your college essentials in a box: your comforter set, your sheet set, your towel set. We go a little further [with] plates, cups, surge protectors, batteries, string lights. We provide that to our students, and our donors can purchase it for students as well, she said.

According to The Vogue Room Foundation website, a 25-piece college essentials package will run around $250, and the 50-piece ultimate dorm room pack costs $500. A full #DormRoomDeckOut totals $1,500.

Corporations, local businesses, and university programs have partnered with Staten and The Vogue Room Foundation to donate college dreamer packages to students.

One partnership with the DukeLIFE program, which provides assistance to first-generation and lower-income undergraduate students at Duke University, partnered with The Vogue Room Foundation to raffle off a 50-piece dorm room package to students at orientation.

I would love to partner with more universities and programs like that in the future, Staten said.

Giving Back to First-Generation Students

According to The Vogue Room Foundation, 97.5% of applicants come from one-parent households making $31,000.

Staten, recalling her days as a first-generation student, says it is important to give back to students who may not have the financial resources to create a space at college that they feel safe in and proud of.

Coming in [to college], there's a financial barrier with a lot of first-generation college students, she said. The average student going off to college is spending close to $1,200 decorating their dorm room.

Jackson, who grew up in the foster system, said the foundation gave her a space to not only feel comfortable and safe but also to express herself.

I would say my childhood growing up was not a traditional childhood, I constantly moved house to house, and [in] most places that I stayed I didn't have my own room, she said.

So being able to have [my own space] but it's actually been tailored towards me and my personality and the things that I connect with...I think that is just something that is very unique. I very much appreciate The Vogue Room Foundation.

Staten says one of the best parts about her work is the reactions of the students she gets to help.

The most memorable thing is their reaction when they see this space for the first time, [it] is so much excitement and joy. Some cry, some dance, and it's just a really amazing moment for both of us. I kind of feel like ‘mission accomplished’ [that] they love their space, she said. That just makes my heart smile.