Liberal Arts Dorms Struggle With Space

Swarthmore's Quidditch team plays a match on Mertz FieldPhoto by Kat Clark '12
Swarthmore's Quidditch team plays a match on Mertz Field
Photo by Kat Clark '12

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

With just over 1,550 students currently enrolled, Swarthmore is struggling to find places for everyone to live. Even with 16 housing options ranging from singles and doubles to apartments, dorms are currently at full capacity, and its peer institutions seem to be struggling with similar issues.

To add space for students, some of the lounges in both Dana and Hallowell have been converted into housing. As a result, the trailer between the two dorms, which was originally supposed to be temporary, has become the residence halls’ permanent, primary lounge space. The lack of space at Swarthmore manifests itself also complicates room change requests.

“If a situation really comes to the point where we need to entertain a room change, because we are at full capacity, we sometimes have to get really creative,” Assistant Dean for Residential Life Rachel Head said, otherwise, students are encouraged to work through their issues with their RA’s.

Long-term residence hall renovation and construction projects, which will be envisioned by this year’s Master Planning process, may alleviate the stress on housing down the road, as would a slight reduction of each class size, in the meantime. But how do Swarthmore’s dorms stack up against those at its peer schools, like Williams, Haverford, and Pomona?

At both Williams and Haverford, lack of living space is an issue as well. At Williams, some of the dorms no longer have kitchens and at Haverford, many halls do not have lounges.The one striking difference between housing at Swarthmore and housing at Williams, Pomona, and Haverford is that all three of these schools have separate freshman housing.

At Haverford, freshmen live in halls with other freshmen in four of the different dorms on campus. At Pomona, students are divided into and live with “sponsor groups” which consist of eight to fifteen freshmen and two sophomore sponsors. Audrey Glaser, a freshman at Pomona, said that “Sponsor groups are an integral part of the freshman experience at Pomona. Almost all my closest friends here thus far are in my sponsor group.”

Williams houses freshman in a similar manner. There, first years are separated into a group called an “entry,” which consists of 20 freshmen and two junior advisors. One student said her favorite part of the Williams housing system is living with her entry-mates in a subsection of their larger dorm.

At Swarthmore, however, students remain opposed to segregation by year.

“Students tell us, year after year, that they want the opportunity to get to know the first-year class and live on the same hall as new students,” Head said: students believe that this contributes to the inclusive, comfortable community that they feel makes Swarthmore special.

Those who live in Willets, Wharton, Mertz, AP, and DK say they love the large lounge spaces their dorms provide. Mickey Herbert ’15, who lived in Willets last year and is living there again as a sophomore said that the lounges in Willets defined his experiences in the dorm. “The hall life is great here. There is almost always something going on,” he says. Matthew Heck ‘13, an RA in Dana, said that “rooms [there have] become communal, social spaces,” but that the absence of individual floor lounges puts a strain on hall life.

However, students at Williams Pomona, and Haverford all describe similar living situations and comparable housing lottery systems. Both Pomona and Haverford also have 16 different housing options as well as many gender-neutral bathrooms. At all three schools, interviewed students complained about lack of air conditioning in the majority of the dorms.

More immediate changes to the housing program include rethinking gender-neutral housing options and potentially changing the sophomore housing lottery. According to Head, “The sophomore housing lottery is the process that appears to be the most complicated and seems to cause the most unnecessary stress to students. It’s worth thinking through whether or not the end result of that process is worth the stress that it seems to cause some students.”


  1. It is DEFINITELY worth the stress when you don’t know where you’re living until the second you arrive. And then your keys will be lost. And sometimes you can’t even move into the right room at that point either. This didn’t happen to me though. I found out a whopping three days before moving in.

    This year for waitlisted sophomores was pathetic. The rooms might not have been very bad, but the communication was horrible or nonexistent. I think the class of ’16 will appreciate stepping up your game come Spring/summer 2013.

  2. Something I’ve wondered: Why don’t we put freshmen in PPR? If more freshman were placed in PPR and ML, the ML-ers wouldn’t feel as unlucky, and those dorms might become more desirable spaces. I know one of the biggest complaints about PPR is lack of hall-life. Freshman would change that–and open up more space in on-campus dorms for upper classmen and potential mid-semester room-swaps.

  3. Danielle,

    Freshmen did, once upon a time, live in PPR. Unfortunately, many who were placed there felt they were still in a highly disadvantageous position in terms of hall life, so most probably weren’t motivated to join in. It just doesn’t compare to most of the dorms’ layouts, which are more suitable for hall life (long halls, central lounges, etc).

  4. while I think a school like swathmore,haverford etc.. should keep their enrollment small.(one of the things that make them amazing) and I also understand that every class may have +/- 25 students. overloading housing can really mess up the college experience . there is a quick answer to the problem and muhlenberg college (another amazing school) can show the way! they had modular dorms installed. their is a video on you tube on it. they went in quickly, they look amazing (not anything like one might think) and could be done and swathmore>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The Phoenix