‘Where can I put it?’ can be a big question in a small living space like a dorm room. This year, due to a record number of incoming freshman, the question becomes ‘Where can we put them?’
In order to house all of the incoming freshmen required to live on campus, Campus Living and Learning had to enact expanded occupancy this year in the traditional freshman residence halls: Collins, North Russell, South Russell, Penland and Martin. ‘Expanded occupancy’ means that community leaders living in double occupancy rooms, who normally do not have roommates, were given freshman resident roommates, and the study lounges on each floor were rearranged to house freshmen. Community Leaders are students who live on campus in residence halls and are there to help students with any issues they may have and serve as mentors for their residents.
All freshmen are required to live on campus unless they fall under one of a few exceptions listed on the Campus Living and Learning website; for example having family in McLennan County with whom them are living or if they are married.
“This is something we didn’t have to do last year, but it’s pretty common,” said Tiffany Lowe, director of Campus Living and Learning.
Jeff Doyle, Dean for Student Learning and Engagement, said the increase of freshmen was due to higher freshman enrollment than projected.
“It was a popular year for Baylor,” Doyle said. “People are calling it the ‘year of the bear.’ More students are coming to Baylor that may have normally gone elsewhere.”
Lowe said she hopes that with the addition of University Parks apartment complex this year and East Village next fall, overcrowding in the dorms will not be as much of a problem.
North Russell Hall director Lisa Murphy said she has seen expanded occupancy three times within the past four years she has worked at North Russell.
“Last year was the only year since I’ve been here that we didn’t have expanded occupancy,” Murphy said.
Round Lake Beach, Ill. senior Nathaniel Rogers is a community leader in Martin Residence Hall who now lives with a freshman roommate due to the crowded conditions.
“It was a little inconvenient. I was used to having my own room, but it wasn’t shocking,” Rogers said.
Katy freshman Dan Namazi, Roger’s roommate, said despite his initial misgivings, he doesn’t mind living with a community leader now.
“At first I was kind of upset, honestly,” Namazi said.
“Do I wish I sometimes lived with one of my freshman peers? Yes, but I have a lot easier access to Nate,” Namazi added.
Rogers said he tries to understand what Namazi feels and connect with him as much as he helps the other residents under his charge.
“I think he’s been taking it well,” Rogers said. “I think it’s useful because I have more knowledge about college life and he has direct access to me.”
Murphy said the community leaders in the dorms often try to connect their roommates with other freshmen in order to cultivate relationships with peers their own age.
“They’ve all had positive attitudes and have been wanting to help whomever they’re living with,” Murphy said.
Lowe said Campus Living and Learning told the community leaders before the start of school about their roommates. It is not the first time this has happened.
“They’ve had roommates in the past,” Lowe said. “We communicated with them over the summer. They’ve been great and we’ve had great feedback from parents.”
Some students are housed in a converted study lounge, another form of expanded occupancy.
“When we convert the study rooms, first they change out all the furniture,” Murphy said. “Each student gets their own wardrobe, dresser, desk and bed. The rooms are actually quite spacious, and all the study room furniture is removed.”
This is standardized practice throughout all the residential halls.
“I was kind of upset at first,” said Tyler freshman Clay Wells, who was placed in a study room in Martin Residence Hall. “I felt like they were sticking me in a room with four other guys I didn’t have anything in common with.”
Now, Wells said, he wouldn’t want to leave his room, which houses five students total.
“I like these guys,” Wells said. “Overall, I’m pretty happy. I wouldn’t want to have to switch to a smaller room with only one other guy all the time.”
However, other students in expanded occupancy don’t feel as comfortable with their situation.
“There wasn’t a sense of stability,” said Houston junior Emily Driscoll, who lived in a study room in Dawson Residence Hall her freshman year. “I didn’t feel at home anywhere at Baylor.”
Houston freshman Carlin Leale said she already feels uneasy about her housing situation.
“Everything is not very certain with my housing situation,” Leale said. “They said I could be there all semester or a few days.”
Murphy said students in expanded occupancy housing are often moved into traditional rooms as space becomes available. The roommates of community leaders typically get moved first, Murphy said.
“It’s not cut and dry, but we try to move the CL roommates first in order to get them connected with other students,” Murphy said.
Murphy said she’s been pleased with the attitudes from the CL’s and the residents about the situation.
“We haven’t experienced an increase in complaints,” Murphy said. “When they get here and meet their roommates, it becomes the same.”
Murphy said the increased occupancy hasn’t really changed the dynamics of the hall.
“It’s about 36 more residents,” Murphy said. “It’s not as if we’re multiplying or doubling in size. Our ratio is still good. Our desire is still to make it feel like a community.”
Lowe said the residence halls have not encountered a situation in which they overflow due to expanded occupancy.
“At Baylor, we say that we have a bed for every head,” Lowe said.
However, Lowe said, if an extreme overflow situation were to occur at Baylor, Campus Living and Learning would open options in order to accommodate students like renting out a block of rooms at a hotel or leasing another apartment.
Baylor would make the accommodations as needed if overflow were to happen, leasing the apartment or block of rooms, and it would act as a regular residence hall. Students would live in the overflow housing until room in the regular dorms opened up.