Wilson House is one of the locations first-year students have been placed due to overcrowding. Alex Knapp / Tufts Daily

Limited space puts incoming students in overflow housing

On-campus housing has approached maximum capacity this semester, putting many first-year and transfer students in overflow housing and nontraditional first-year housing.

Yolanda King, Director of the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife), said there are currently 12 available beds on campus, most of which are in open spots in campus doubles. Because of this limited availability, there is very little flexibility for students who want to change their residential accommodations, King said.

Of the seventeen student residence halls, eight are available to incoming students and sixteen are special interest residences. These buildings supply a total of approximately 3,000 beds on campus, according to Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon and the ResLife website.

According to King, the Class of 2019 and the group of new transfer students are an unusually large group of incoming students.

Numbers cited in Tufts Now articles show that the Class of 2019 contains 1,360 first-year students, an increase from last year’s incoming first-year class of 1,352 students and the previous year’s class of 1318 students.

The number of transfer students vary in any given year, but typically anywhere from 50 to 100 transfer candidates will be offered admission, according to the Tufts Admissions website.

King said the influx of students has caused ResLife to think creatively in order to find optimal housing placements for them.

McMahon explained that many of the on-campus spaces that ResLife typically sets aside in case people need to be moved during the academic year are currently being used for permanent student housing.

“Our planned overflow space is being used this year, which tells you that we have plenty of people on campus,” McMahon said. “We still have other overflow space, and there’s this constant process where people change their plans [at the last minute], so the capture number changes [from day to day].”

Transfer students have been placed wherever there were spaces available in various on-campus apartments, special interest houses and some residence halls, according to King. Transfer students have been housed in Wilson House in the past few years, but because the residence is staffed with a resident advisor, placement of first-year students was prioritized over transfer students.

King called the current arrangements for transfer students “temporary placements.”

“There were plans to house the transfer students together in one location, that being Wilson House, so that they would have a cohort group as they became acclimated to Tufts,” King said. “However, there was a need to house the freshmen in Wilson House this year and assign the transfers to spaces on campus that were suitable for upper-class students, as we are committed to freshmen being in staffed halls.”

King added that some juniors will go abroad next semester, creating free spaces in housing.

“There will be a lot more options and opportunity for students to move in the spring semester,” she said.

The Wilson House will be made available for transfer students again for the next academic year, according to McMahon.

Sophomore Lucy Purinton, one of three transfer students placed in the Chinese House on Curtis St., said the incoming transfer students were originally told over the summer that they would be placed together in Wilson House. On July 17, however, the students were informed that there would not be room in the house for all of them.

Purinton said her housing situation has made the adjustment to Tufts more difficult, and that given the opportunity, she would likely elect to move to another building.

“I think it would have been a lot easier if I were in a traditional dorm with all of the other transfers, or at least more transfers,” she said. “Also, if I were on campus, just because it’s a good way to meet people, but I feel kind of restricted based on where I am living.”

While there is limited flexibility, students who have issues with their current housing situations can switch with other students at any point in time, as long as the desired swaps are mutual, King explained.

“If there are any issues as it pertains to roommates having conflicts, the in-hall staff are prepared to assistant students…with switching roommates, which we call mutual swaps, and on some occasions hosting a gathering for those looking to [swap] roommates,” King said.

According to McMahon, if there is a need to move large numbers of students for any reason, ResLife will look into ways to repurpose space and move and consolidate people at the midyear point.

“With 3,000 beds, there’s a lot of room to do some creative problem solving when we have to, and we’re going to try to do that thoughtfully,” she said.

McMahon said there are two retreat suites that remain separate from the housing system and are effectively offline, but which can be made available if a student needs to be removed from their housing situation immediately.

The Counseling [and Mental Health Services] and Health Services and TUPD have access to them on the weekend, as does the administrator on call,” she said. “We can sort of coordinate and say, ‘Okay, we have this space for someone to go because they need short-term space while we figure out what else is happening with their room assignment.’”

McMahon and King both said they hope to explore possibilities to improve on-campus housing experiences, including working  through the Residential Strategies Working Group (RSWG), which was established last spring to investigate student housing options. RSWG has worked over the summer with housing data collected by administrative units to pursue its goals effectively, according to Provost and Senior Vice President David Harris, who leads the working group.

University Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell said she has partnered with Harris on this working group, providing support with data about the current state of housing, including models and projections of costs of potential changes. The data comes from various student surveys and other sources that have been analyzed by the Office of Institutional Research, she said.

“[We are] looking at what it might take to do renovations, what [it would] take if we were to build new [housing], and understanding some of those opportunities, as well as challenges, involved in that,” Campbell said.

RSWG held its first meeting in mid-September, according to Harris.

Campbell said that during the group’s first meeting, RSWG members talked about approaching housing from various perspectives in order to optimize student experience.

“One goal of the RSWG is to recommend a housing strategy that will enable us to provide students with an even better residential experience,” Harris told the Daily in an email. “Part of this requires us to consider the ideal mix of on and off-campus housing, and the characteristics of these units [of] housing,”

McMahon said she is interested in looking into how space is being used currently and in devising a way to make use of space more efficient in the future.

“We are definitely looking to see if there are rooms that if we renovated them…could we do something to them to bring them back online?” she said.

In addition to traditional housing, the university has other spaces to work with, including a guest suite, retreat suites, scholars-in-residence areas, area residence director (ARD) apartments and College Transition Advisors (CTA) and ARD offices, according to McMahon.

“Those spaces are all sorts of things that we’re also looking at, like how are we using those spaces, and going forward, what makes sense?” she said.

Campbell hopes RSWG will meet throughout the fall and into next semester to form concrete proposals and ideas by the end of the academic year.

“Our goal is to look at how [we can] improve the experience of student housing on campus,” she explained. “So does that mean adding beds, does that mean renovating beds, does that mean adding students, does that mean changing the way people are assigned housing, does it mean supporting, in some way differently, students that are living in the surrounding community? It is very complex and there are many questions, and we’re prepared to look at it in a comprehensive way.”

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