Overcrowding: Limited space in Colby dorms

“Why is my child in a room that is simply too small for three people?” “How is it fair if my child can’t comfortably study in his room without being a foot away from his sleeping roommate at night?” “Why are we paying the same amount for housing as other students whose living situations aren’t compromised?” These are just a few of the questions that concerned and angry parents of first-years had on Move-In Day 2017, and were referring to an issue that has become all too clear: there is a severe and growing issue with overcrowding dorm rooms and residence halls on campus that continues to be ignored. 

Due to a number of factors, such as notable student body growth and Grossman’s transformation into DavisConnects, this is the second year in which a greater number of first-year students than ever before reside in triples, some of whom have been crammed into what used to be freshman doubles. Realistically, squeezing three bodies, three furniture sets, and three different personalities and lifestyles into a room that is designed for two people is neither an adequate use of space, nor is it conducive to creating the type of freshman year relationships on which Colby prides itself.

To clarify, Campus Life does not call these freshman rooms “forced” triples, like many students do, but instead say either “lofted” triples or “flex” rooms. Fen Bowen, who is the Program Coordinator for Residential Living and Education, elaborated on this difference. “We have ‘flex’ rooms that can be either triples or doubles,” he said. “’Forced’ triples would only have the three beds, and not everyone would get every piece of furniture.” When asked if Campus Life receives many complaints about these rooms, Bowen said, “I personally haven’t heard that the spaces have caused any problems.”

Roberts Row Area Resident Director Meredith Keenan ’18 agreed. She said, “The CAs I oversee haven’t come forward to me with any problems concerning those rooms. The hardest time tends to be the beginning of the school year when people are learning to live in shared spaces in general.” She added that these students have options to make the space work, saying, “students in lofted triples are allowed to remove furniture, a privilege that other first-years and sophomores are not given.” Keenan feels confident that the school is doing the best they can in adjusting to the circumstances.

“We have a tremendous Hall Staff this year which works with every first-year room in hopes to nurture the most positive experience possible,” she says. “Those that I’ve worked with in lofted triples in previous years have come out of it with closer friends and a better perspective on college housing in general.” Unfortunately, there still seems to be a disconnect between Campus Life and some of the students in “lofted” triples this year. For one thing, the vocabulary that Campus Life insists on using does not deter students who live in these spaces from feeling that the space is nothing short of “forced.”

Tom Cummins ’21 is one of the lucky few who currently resides in a “flex” room on Frat Row. He shares 213 square feet with two other first-years a whopping 71 square-feet per student. When asked about his room, he said, “I was pretty frustrated when I found out I would be in a forced triple this year. My roommates are nice guys, but the room is simply too small. We make it work, but if all three of us weren’t very organized people it definitely wouldn’t. The overcrowding of the dorms is absolutely a problem on this campus, and something needs to be done to fix it. The only thing getting me through this year in my tiny room is the hope of something much better next year. I hope the school doesn’t let me down again.”

This chasm between students’ sentiments and Campus Life’s opinions begets the question: is Campus Life banking on different terminology use to assuage any animosities towards poor living situations?

Additionally, in attempt to create the necessary on-campus housing, there is now the loss of important residence hall entities, and the overcrowding crisis has expanded beyond the first year class. For juniors coming back from studying abroad in January, finding housing for JanPlan is virtually impossible.

Nina Oleynik ’18 knows this firsthand. Last year, when she returned from her semester abroad, she was told that she had to find her own housing for Janplan. She slept on a friend’s floor for a month on an air mattress. She told the Echo “When Colby says that they guarantee housing for all four years, I expected that to be more than finding my own accomodations on a floor. It was not the welcome back to Colby I was expecting after a semester abroad.”

Another way that Colby has tried to create space is by turning study rooms into singles, which are usually reserved for upperclassmen. While this provides slightly more housing, it takes away a common space that would normally be utilized by all dorm residents. Similarly, common rooms in Hillside have been turned into quads. These were originally assigned to freshmen, but were placed on the room draw list for this school year. Scott Batchelder ’20 lived in the Williams common room as a freshman. Reflecting back on his experience, he said, “as a freshman, [that room] sucked. There’s no way four random students can coexist well in a room designed like that.”

On the bright side, the sophomores who elected to live in the Hillside common rooms are doing just fine, indicating that the decision to allot these rooms to sophomores moving forward is the right one. Ryan Lauderback ’20 now lives in that same Williams common room. He says, “we have a great living space for the four of us. A wall of windows isn’t exactly ideal for a room because it’s always cold. But I love hillside!” Rocky Tonkel ’20 lives in the Marriner common room and shares similar sentiments. “My [housing] situation is totally fine. It was also the seventh room selected in my year, which I think is significant.” Lauderback also had the fourth highest pick in his year.

At other NESCAC schools, the housing situation is nowhere near this complicated or detrimental. Will Youman ’21, a Tufts student said “Living in a super nice dorm at Tufts makes it easier to make friends freshman year. The common room is aesthetically pleasing, clean, and there’s a ton of natural life so it becomes a social hub during the week.” Conversely, Colby Admissions preaches that housing is guaranteed for all four years – but at what cost?