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Beloit College shifts housing to accommodate large class of 2019

This article was originally published on Sept. 7, 2015.

This semester, the Office of Residential Life has had to make significant changes in housing situations to accommodate changing class sizes. The Beloit College class of 2019 is the largest first year class at the school since 1974, at 392 students. The total number of incoming students tops out at 438 after taking into account transfers and exchange students. In other words, about a third of the student body is new. These fluctuations are not so unusual, especially when considering the large class of 2018 is much larger compared to the upper classes. “Over the past five years, the incoming class sizes ranged from 299 in 2014 to 333 in 2010,” according to Robert Mirabile, director of enrollment. The fall semester also tends to be more demanding than spring, notes John Winkelmann, Director of Residential Life, because some students graduate in January, and many students go abroad second semester.

Last year saw a number of changes already being implemented by Residential Life due to the fluctuating enrollment and subsequent housing demand. The college closed down 819 Clary, formerly the Kappa Delta sorority house, as well as two houses on Park Avenue, 836 and 842, formerly known as Japan and Geology Houses. Members of Japan House were relocated into a tower in Haven, and Geology House moved into 837 College Street, formerly known as French House. This building now accommodates French Club, Japanese Club, Chinese Club and German Club. Members of Kappa Delta sorority moved to 815 College Street, formerly a first year dorm. This semester, Interfaith House was relocated to a Haven Tower and their former building, 842 Church Street, became Performing Arts House.

This semester, the college reopened the two Park Avenue houses to accommodate sixteen first-years, with one house designated for male residents and the other female. Five seniors live in the house behind 819 Clary, formerly occupied by a college staff member. After this year, though, the house is likely to become the new location for the Little Turtles’ Playhouse Cooperative Childcare Center, currently at 706 College Street. What will happen to the old daycare building is still being discussed, according to Winkelmann.

Also new this year is a pilot program of living and learning communities. Students in five First Year Initiatives (FYIs), all revolving around the theme of food, live together, spread out across multiple residence halls. The FYIs involved are “Culinary Hipsterism: Eating Locally and Thinking Globally,” taught by chemistry professor Laura Parmentier, “Regarding Taste, Preference and Distinction,” taught by anthropology professor Jennifer Esperanza, “The Way of the Samurai,” taught by modern languages and literature professor Susan Furukawa, “Urban Gardens and the Amazon,” taught by political science professor Pablo Toral and “Local Ecomusicologies: Hearing Beloit,” taught by music professor Tes Slomiski.

After crunching numbers, Winkelmann reports that the college is only a few students above capacity. There are “overflow situations” in Peet Hall, Blaisdell Hall, Whitney Hall, Wood, Haven, 609 Emerson, and Maurer. This might mean rooms that were not used before are now being used, lounges or conference rooms were converted to living spaces and some rooms have to accommodate up to double, triple or four times their normal capacity of students. Winkelmann understands that adjusting to living with a roommate, or several, is not always easy. When new students moved in this semester, greeting cramped rooms and multiple roommates, he witnessed “shock, awe and terror” on some of their faces.

Yet there are still a few holes here and there, due to a variety of reasons. Some students backed out of special interest houses or decide to take a vacation term, making the Office of Residential Life scramble in August to make changes.

There has been precedent for this, as the college has needed to use all of their off-campus housing as well as convert several lounges. The college also continues to acquire property. 905 Church Street (Peace and Justice House), and 722 College Street (Outdoor Environmental Club) were bought in the early 2000s, and Park Avenue houses and Clary Townhouses were acquired within the past few years.

The Offices of Residential Life, Admissions and Dean of Students maintain a mutual planning process, and the offices are already thinking about next year. Mirabile anticipates that “next year’s entering class will be similar in size to this year.” Emerson Hall, the building with 31 one-bedroom apartments between Peet Hall and Brannon Hall, has been left unused after a fire in 2013 vacated the senior citizens group who had been leasing the building from the college. There is a possibility part of the space could be converted into student housing, including a studio apartment. The college may also revisit the payment system. Currently, students each pay a flat rate for rooms, regardless of how many roommates they have, which might not be fair given the housing disparities.

Though these increases in enrollment may cause seemingly dramatic changes that directly affect students, Mirabile is excited about the numbers, stressing that “maintaining a healthy enrollment is critical for Beloit because most of the college’s operating budget comes from tuition revenue.”

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