Overcrowding causes concern on campus

The college has been gradually increasing the size of the student body population over the past five years. The increasing number of students presents the potential issue of overcrowded spaces on campus, especially in regards to dining and studying spaces. Students are concerned that the larger student body is straining the college’s spaces and services.

Dean of Students Elizabeth Braun said that the growth of the student body is part of the college’s strategic plan. In the last five years, the college has added 100 students to the student population, and it plans to add 100 more in the next five years.

“Over the last five years, the college has increased in size by 100 students,” said Braun. “This growth was outlined as part of the strategic plan that was completed in 2010-2011. That plan called for Swarthmore to increase by a total of 200 students over the course of 10 years.  We will be continuing to evaluate and assess timing, pacing, and implementation of continued student growth.”   

Sharples has difficulty running efficiently during peak meal hours, causing many students frustration. Due to the large number of classes that end simultaneously, a lunch rush generally occurs at around 12:30. Although peak meal hours have always been crowded at Sharples students have expressed concern that the dining hall is more crowded than ever this year.

“I was surprised because I’ve never seen so many people,” said Xena Wang ’19. “Last year, maybe because there were fewer people or because I went at more opportune times, I felt like there was always somewhere to sit. But now, I feel like, during peak hours, you can’t really find anywhere without being crowded,” said Wang.

Linda McDougall, head of dining services, discussed how Sharples has worked to increase capacity and meet student needs. McDougal said that the Sharples to-go option greatly reduced crowding, and incremental increases in staffing have helped to keep Sharples running smoothly. Furthermore, she stated that increased seating has been added within the dining hall, and Sharples has increased its capacity to provide for students.

“We added some new tables this past summer, which has increased our seating capacity,” said McDougal. “This is a two phase process, which will commence this coming summer and will transition all the tables and chairs. I believe, at that point, we will have reached our maximum capacity.  I truly have not heard any complaints, to date, about the lack of seating when students come for meals.”

Some students, such as Wang, will avoid going to Sharples at peak meal hours altogether in order to avoid fighting through the crowds. Because she gets out of class at 12:30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays Wang avoids the peak meal time  overcrowding in Sharples, and she tries to go to the Ville or the Science Center instead.

“On Tuesday and Thursday, I don’t bother going to Sharples because I know it will be crowded, because that’s when everyone gets out ,” said Wang, describing the necessity of intentional planning of meals to compensate for overcrowded dining options.

McDougal described how the addition of Sharples to-go and the expansion of the meal plan to include Ville Points has decreased the crowding at peak meal times. Although many students have voiced complaints about Sharples overcrowding, McDougal claims that the diversity of dining options under the new meal plan leads to fewer students coming into Sharples and decreases the lunch rush.

“I do not feel as if we are any more crowded during peak hours as we have been in the past,” said McDougal. “I feel, with the addition of take out as well as additional points and the grab ’n go options, that the counts are about the same and sometimes a little less than in the past.”

Although these additions have been positively received by the student body, many students believe that they haven’t eliminated the problems associated with Sharples. Wang shared her appreciation for the increased diversity of dining options while pointing out that problems remain with Sharples and the campus dining experience.

“I think people don’t realize they can explore other options with this new meal plan. Now, it’s a lot easier to go to other places because, if I see that Sharples is really crowded, I can go somewhere else,” said Wang. “Last year, Sharples was the only option, so I’m not really disappointed … but I think Sharples is over its capacity.”

As part of its strategic plan, the college is working to renovate and expand many buildings and services on campus. Provost Thomas Stephenson identified the need to increase academic spaces on campus as one of the key concerns of the college, especially in light of the increasing population. The college is currently planning out the construction of a new Biology, Engineering, and Psychology  building. This construction will create new academic spaces  for these departments as well as free up spaces, such as Martin Hall, to be renovated and used by other departments.

“This new facility will provide new labs for these three departments as well as space for the expansion of each,” said Stephenson.  “There will also be a common space that will enhance opportunities for interdisciplinary connections between the departments, and that will serve as a new gathering area for the Trotter – Pearson – BEP – Kohlberg quad that will be formed around the Nason garden.”

Several renovations are underway to cope with the growing student body. The Human Resources Department will be moving out of Pearson Hall, so it can be converted into a full academic building. Over the summer, the former bookstore space of Clothier was converted into a computer science lab, and spaces in Beardsley and Old Tarble were renovated as studio art space. Furthermore, Cornell first was redone in order  to increase the quality and capacity of student study space. These changes are part of a push to expand and improve campus space.

“We are also currently building the new residence hall, which will add 120 beds and open in the Fall of 2017; the Whittier Place building and the Biology, Engineering, Psychology building,” said Braun. “The Sproul expansion of the Intercultural Center will help accommodate the growth of students engaged in the Intercultural Center, the Interfaith Center, and International students.”

Despite the renovations and construction projects planned by administration, students remain concerned about the current overcrowding of spaces on campus. Beyond Sharples, the Science Center is seen as overcrowded by many students. These concerns are especially strong in respect to the coffee bar. Because of the tight turnaround time between classes, a long line at the coffee bar can be problematic. Daniel Lai ’17 discussed how the increasingly long line causing difficulties with getting to class on time.

“During my four years at Swarthmore, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Science Center coffee bar line this long between classes,” said Lai. “It’s hard to wait on line to get things without being late to your next class.”

In addition to complaints about the coffee bar line, students have also expressed frustration with how crowded certain academic buildings and study spaces get on campus. Science Center is a popular spot for students to study throughout the day, but the number of people going there often makes it difficult to find study spots. Even with the recent renovations, Cornell has become very crowded, making it difficult for students to study there.

“It’s very hard to find a spot in Science Center to study during the day,” said Lai. “While I do love the recent renovations to Cornell first and the additional study space that has been created, I don’t feel as though it is enough to address the overcrowding of good study spaces during peak hours.”

Although the college is working to expand campus spaces, the steady growth of the student body and the overcrowding of current spaces continues to be a concern for students.


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