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Monday, May 23, 2022

Housing Shortage Prompts Change

Facing a spring housing shortage, lounges in Gifford Hall, Hadley Hall and Milliken Hall were converted into to dorm rooms in order to provide an additional 14 beds for students, a change that permitted students to have greater flexibility in their late-January decisions about whether to return to campus, but has angered some as a result of the decrease in social spaces within the dorms.

During winter term, Residential Systems Coordinator Karen Hall-Kolts advised Facilities Services to convert one double in Gifford Hall and one double in Hepburn Hall into student housing. Before the spring term began, a similar process occurred, only this time 10 further spaces were created — four single rooms in Milliken Hall, four singles in Hadley Hall and one double in Gifford Hall — in order to accommodate students.

The changes, according to Hall-Kolts, were the result of a confluence of three main factors.

“Our pattern as of late has been to accept a higher number of students, and that has built up over the years,” she said. “We are also seeing fewer students who fail out of school ... [and] we have fewer students choosing to study off campus.”

Hall-Kolts also explained that recently, the College has sought to be more flexible with students in their late-semester requests to return to campus. This spring, in order to accommodate the increased numbers, it was necessary to convert lounges into dorm rooms. While many students who live within the rooms have adapted to their new spaces with little difficulty — many of the rooms are actually larger than their non-lounge counterparts — others within the residence halls have lamented the loss of the communal spaces.

“We got pretty upset when we found out that we were going to lose the lounge,” said Afi Yellow-Duke ’15, a student who lives next door to one lounge-turned-dorm in Gifford. “It was a study space and a social space. That was where a lot of our friends came to hang out with us. It’s really changed how I socialize in Gifford. It’s hard to find spaces now.”

Yellow-Duke explained that the recent conversion has left only one lounge in Gifford as a social space in the dorm. She noted that while the Gifford annex provides a large space for organic gatherings, it is also a room that is often used by many non-Gifford residents for improv and theatre practices.

Stanis Moody-Roberts ’11, the commons residential advisor for Wonnacott Commons, elaborated on the challenges posed by the conversion.

“There are a lot of groups that use the Gifford annex lounge as a meeting space,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of complaints because it is meant to be a study and recreation lounge. Students are having a hard time finding a space to do those things now.”

In an email about the changes to Jonathan Miller-Lane, Wonnacott Commons head and associate professor of education studies, Moody-Roberts further described his concerns.

“Lounge space is an essential piece to community-building in a residential dorm — it is where people get together, make connections, interact and get to know each other,” he wrote.

“It is also an inclusive and neutral space, open to everyone,” continued Moody-Roberts. “A lounge is essential to building a more cohesive and less cliquey community, and to building a sense of hall identity.”

Moody-Roberts provided Painter Hall and Starr Hall as examples of dorms with less lively communities as a result of the lack of lounge spaces.

“It is impossible to express how much good it does to a hall to have a lounge — you really do go from a “dead” hall of small cliques and private circles … to a much more open and lively hall, where people hang out together as a whole, where everyone knows one another and talk to each other regardless of their social status/identity, where there develops a real sense of pride and identity around living in that hall and among that group of neighbors.”

The most recent conversions bring the total number of former-lounge bedrooms in residence halls to 34, with other spaces having been converted in recent years in Coffrin Hall and Hepburn Hall in addition to Gifford, Milliken and Hadley Halls. The only commons not affected by the lounge conversions has been Cook Commons.

In addition to these changes, in 2010 the College also added residential spaces by converting Munford and Meeker Halls from offices into dorms.

While the increase in student numbers has created greater difficulty for the housing coordination staff, Hall-Kolts emphasized that student housing is not a simple calculation of finding spaces for all enrolled students.

“A bed is not always a bed,” she explained. “We have our first-year beds, sophomore beds, super block beds and social interest house beds, among others.”

Hall-Kolts explained that housing students is not merely a numbers question but a matter of seeking to find residential communities that best meet student needs.

“It becomes a real balancing act of whose interests are most important,” she said.