Dorms are cramped home sweet home

Michelle Kibiger

College of Liberal Arts sophomore Emily Echola lives in Comstock Hall, the same place she spent her freshman year at the University. She said the residence hall’s proximity to the Minneapolis campus and its affordability were key factors she considered when she decided to live there again.
Echola said that living in the dorm has been a positive first-time-away-from-home experience. Echola is typical of dorm residents. Most say they are satisfied with residence hall life, but that there are problems that need to be ironed out.
For example, Echola said that sometimes she needs more privacy and quiet than dormitory life offers. She is far from alone in this complaint.
Overcrowding in the residence halls has forced housing officials to transform many study lounges into rooms, and students have fewer lounges to use than before.
“I’m really angry,” Echola said. “That’s supposed to be there for us.”
The University guaranteed beds last spring for 250 first-year students for the 1996-97 school year. Currently, more than 100 students are temporarily living in some residence halls’ lounges.
University administrators say the study lounges are necessary casualties in the school’s quest to build community at a school where a large number of students commute.
University President Nils Hasselmo’s University 2000 plan calls for the school to provide more student housing in order to encourage students to live on campus.
During each of the past two years, the University has tried to accommodate all of the 3,000 first-year students in its residence halls. Last year, the school paid for 40 students to live in the Days Inn on University Avenue because the residence halls were overbooked.
Mary Ann Ryan, assistant director of Housing and Residential Life, said the University wants all students to have the opportunity to live on campus. She said while many schools around the country are trying to expand their housing programs, lack of money for more residence halls remains a barrier.
To accommodate the rising number of housing applications, the University could have changed double-accommodation rooms into triples, built new facilities or made temporary housing out of lounges and conference centers. This year, two new housing facilities were opened on campus, and several dorms still have students living in the lounges.
“We didn’t want to make doubles into triples because that is really too many students in a given space,” Ryan said.
Roy Wilkins Hall and Argyle House, the two new facilities, hold 126 and 170 students respectively. However, these buildings are limited to certain students: those who have lived in the residence halls for a certain number of quarters or those who are a part of Residential College, which is reserved for first-year students.
Echola said having students live in the lounges creates a problem in her room too. Furniture that is normally placed in the lounges must be stored in the same place where extra beds are kept. Echola said all her furniture, whether she needs it or not, must stay in her room because no storage space is available.
Echola also said the lounges gave students a place for uninterrupted study or just some time alone. Because dorm rooms are small and the lounges are full of students, she said she has no private place to spend some time by herself.
She also said some lounges functioned as social gathering places last year, which she misses.
“We would go and watch Packer games and stuff,” she said. She also said that in some residence halls, the lounges are the only places that have cable television .
CLA freshman Christine Porter lives in Frontier Hall, where students are still living in the lounges. She said she usually studies in her room, but, like other residence halls, Frontier Hall has an Academic Service Center that offers study space, nightly educational programs and tutoring services.
Ryan said using lounges as living quarters causes problems for students. “It definitely inconveniences students to not have those lounges,” she said.
Ryan said this year housing services instituted the first-year experience program in both Territorial and Frontier halls to help build community.
In both of those halls, graduate students majoring in higher education serve as staff. Also, faculty and alumni serve as mentors for students and spend time with students by eating with them and offering tutoring sessions.
Also, Ryan said, space in the two halls was renovated for classrooms so that students could take a class right in their own living environment.
“The freshman dorm concept is a good thing,” said Porter, who lives in Frontier Hall, “because we’re all in the same boat.”
Residence halls take care of both food preparation and cleaning bathroom facilities for students. Although most students appreciate not having to make their own meals, their opinions regarding food quality differ widely.
Each cafeteria has its own menu and dining hours, leaving many students to wonder why the different food is offered in the various dining halls.
Claudia Bruber, residence hall administrator for Food Services, said each location has varying kitchen and serving facility sizes, which accounts for the different menus. She said the Superblock facilities in Centennial and Pioneer halls are generally larger and can offer certain foods every day while smaller facilities like those at Comstock Hall cannot.
Students expressed differing opinions about which of the six dining facilities has the best food. Students who live in the dormitories can eat at any of the halls.
Mohr and his roommate, CLA freshman Matt Bangston, said they usually have to wait in line for about 30 minutes for dinner at Middlebrook Hall. Mohr said he thinks many students come to Middlebrook because they hear the food is better.
Although many students complain about the food in the residence halls, the University food services is ranked ninth in the nation for nutritional value by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine.
Many students also appreciate the maintenance jobs performed by the residence hall staff. Mohr said one time the bathroom he shares with three other students went uncleaned for a week, but he hasn’t experienced any trouble since then. Furthermore, he said anytime something breaks, the staff fix it within a day.
Erik Blomquist, a CLA senior who lives in Centennial Hall, said he had to file an incident statement for the bathroom he shares with several people. Blomquist said it is chronically missing soap or toilet paper but the most recent problem involved a moldy shower curtain and sticky floor.
“We got sick of it,” Blomquist said, “because no one hardly wanted to go in there.”
He said although the bathroom was cleaned, staff did not believe that the problems were recurring.
Nevertheless, Ryan said the staff’s primary purpose is to serve the needs of students until they are ready for a more private, independent living arrangement. She said that the new facilities, which were built for this year, and future facilities planned to open next fall, were designed with older students in mind. She said older students are looking for more independence and privacy.
Rents in the new on-campus housing range from $300 to $450 per month. In comparison, students pay between $783 and $928 for a quarter-long dorm contract. This contract does not include the required meal plans, which range from $557 to $590 per quarter.
Overall, students said they generally like the convenience, the services and costs of the residence halls. However, others are disappointed that the University has taken away some of the dormitories’ valuable spaces just to ensure that all the students who want on-campus housing can have it.
“I don’t feel like I’m getting my money’s worth,” Echola said.