Full Occupancy: Housing Circumstances During Fall 2021

With the Fall 2021 semester underway, students are beginning to shift focus and concerns away from their housing situations to academics. As the college returns to full student occupancy on campus, however, living arrangements have proved to be another challenge for both students and OSE to navigate while preparing for the Fall semester. 

According to Star Longoria, director of residential communities, student attendance for the 2021-2022 academic year is greater than in recent years. 

“[There are] just under 1,600 students living in campus-owned housing and an off-campus student population of about 55 students … hovering at 100% occupancy,” wrote Longoria in an email to The Phoenix.

As a result of the tumultuous 2020-2021 academic year, many students chose to take a gap semester, year, or even defer their acceptance, including a significant number of students now in the Class of 2025. 

The Class of 2025 features 83 more first years at a total of 456 compared to the Class of 2024 at a total of 373 first years. With the surplus of students in the incoming class, accommodating additional individuals was more difficult for the college than in previous years.

“This year, more students than usual applied for on-campus housing. This was due to a variety of factors, all of which relate to the global pandemic,” wrote Longoria.

In an effort to manage the growing number of students, the college introduced several additional residence halls for the 2021-2022 academic year. These locations have been used in the past to house students but have not been utilized in recent years. The new and reopened student housing locations include Kyle House, Parrish North, and Strath Haven Apartments.

Since early summer 2021, the OSE, under whose purview housing falls, has been in communication with students about evolving plans for student living, both on and off campus. In their initial update email on June 14, the Residential Communities Team provided links to information detailing housing lottery numbers, class information, residence hall profiles, and a tentative timeline for individual room selection.

“We maintained a housing waitlist during June and July[,] and we’re happy to report that everyone who requested housing was able to receive housing,” wrote Longoria. The housing selection process took place over the summer instead of the Spring semester; by waiting a little further into the summer we were able to make sure we make assignments based on the most accurate data related to off-campus study and the size of each returning class.”

In spite of the efforts to comfortably house all students, some students’ living arrangements still did not meet their expectations.

Viktoriia Zakharova ’24 is a resident of Kyle House, located near Woolman House on the north edge of campus. These small profile houses are a part of the suburban community adjacent to the main campus. Kyle House is the smaller of the two with a total of nine student beds, including three singles and three doubles. Some of these rooms are forced doubles, meaning that they used to be singles.

“Me and my roommate are very upset because we got a room that used to be [a] single,” she wrote in an email to The Phoenix. “We couldn’t even fit both of our wardrobes in here, so we had to opt for only one. The other couple of girls in our house got a room as big as a triple, but there are only two of them.” 

Zakharova and her roommate are not alone in the world of single-sized rooms transformed into doubles on campus this year. Madeline Clay ’24 wrote in an email to The Phoenix that as a resident of Parrish North, she shares a 152 sq. ft. room with her roommate.

Parrish North is a gender-inclusive hall situated behind the admissions commons in the north end of the building. 

“[Parrish North] has absolutely tiny rooms (especially if you’re in a double), and one toilet/shower/sink per floor- [for] twelve people,” Clay wrote. “New bathrooms are being constructed on the floor above us, which adds an additional toilet and two more showers, but, you know, three toilets for around twenty people isn’t awesome.”

Clay added, “The location [wasn’t] bad, though, and [I] enjoy the proximity Parrish has to everything else on campus.”

Students in the off-campus Strath Haven Apartments face different challenges than those in Parrish.

As detailed on the college’s new housing page, “limited student housing [is] available in Strath-Haven apartments. Four-person, two bedroom, two bathroom units are available … for upperclass students.”

The Strath Haven condominiums are located at the intersection of Harvard and Yale Avenues in the suburban community surrounding the southern area of the college. 

To relieve pressure on students’ commute to main campus from distant housing, “the college operates two wheelchair-accessible shuttles, able to ferry students to and from campus,” as outlined on the Garnet Shuttle page on the Swarthmore website.

The shuttles run continuously from locations not centrally located to campus, such as Kyle House, Strath Haven apartments, Mary Lyon, and PPR dorm areas.

“While shuttles do aid in not being late to class and not getting exhausted from walking, students depend on them too heavily,” said Zakharova. “If the shuttles don’t run for some reason (like during tornado [and storm warnings]), students are forced to figure [out] their transportation themselves.” 

Despite the obstacles students face in their current housing situation, Zakharova commented on her overall perspective this semester.

“We are very grateful to have the opportunity to … stay on campus and engage in in-person classes and student life, but some amenities have been disappointing considering we pay the same amount of housing fees as people with better amenities do. It feels like a lottery.”

In response to students who are unhappy with their current housing assignments, Longoria stated, that “I would want to first assess what they are not satisfied with.  If the answer is something that can be resolved, [the Residential Communities Team] want[s] to work to resolve that quickly.”

Given that the Office of Student Engagement’s first priority was to provide housing to every student in need of it, not all living situations would be ideal. Going forward, Star Longoria encourages students to cooperate with members of the Residential Communities Team under the Office of Student Engagement. Within this team are 56 Resident Assistants, four Residential Communities Coordinators, and Longoria.

“I’m hopeful that students will get involved in the housing selection conversations over the next few months, as housing selection is a process that was developed by students with the goal of providing an equitable housing selection process over the course of one’s four years at Swarthmore,” said Longoria.

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