September 4, 2012

New Students Cramped by Cornell Housing

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As Jamie Yang ’15 prepared to transfer to Cornell this fall, she looked forward to moving into a single room on West Campus. But when she received her housing assignment over the summer, she was “mortified and panicked.”

“Dear Jamie Yang,” the letter said. “We are pleased to provide you with your housing assignment for the 2012-2013 academic year.”

Yang read on to discover that she would be living in what she described as a “forced” quintuplet in Jameson Hall on North Campus, an area of campus that generally houses first-year students.

“I knew living on West [Campus] would be the best place to acclimate to the transfer situation, so I was beyond upset that I was stuck with this living situation,” Yang said.

According to the email Cornell sent Yang, her new home was a study lounge that had been converted into a quintuplet to accommodate an “unusually large incoming class.” The email also indicated that, at some point, Yang could be asked to move elsewhere.

“We want to alert you to the possibility that you may be asked to move to a traditional room before or during the academic year,” the email said. “Our hope is to be able to return your room to a study lounge for use by all residents of your building.”

Yang has since moved into a seven-person suite in Alice Cook House on West Campus. Although, according to Cornell’s housing website, “most transfer students are housed together in groups,” none of Yang’s new suitemates is also a transfer.

“It would have been a lot more pleasant if I had roommates who were transfers as well. It’s easier to acclimate when people I’m living with are also in the same boat with me,” Yang said.

Yang may be just one of many transfers who did not receive her first choice in housing. Sometimes, more incoming first-year and transfer students are admitted to Cornell than can be accommodated in on-campus housing, according to Carlos Gonzalez, assistant director of the Office of Residential and Event Services. However, since these students are guaranteed housing by Cornell, as many as five students at a time may be placed in a converted lounge and offered new rooms as alternative housing becomes available.

“We have a handful of residence hall study lounges that we convert to quintuplet rooms [if there are too many students],” Gonzalez said. “As other space becomes available due to students leaving the University for health or academic reasons, we usually offer students placed in these lounges with the option of moving to another room.”

Students who are unhappy with their housing situation have the option of contacting the housing office prior to their move-in date, Gonzalez said. This year, the housing office already has arranged room changes for 112 new students and 172 students who are not freshmen.

“All rooms are generally filled once housing assignments are made, but we keep track of student requests and offer room swaps whenever possible,” Gonzalez said. “Room changes sometimes are not possible for several weeks into the semester because we must first complete a room census to determine vacancies.”

According to Lee Melvin, associate vice provost for enrollment, the current ideal freshman class at Cornell ranges in size from 3,180 to 3,250 students. This number, he said, can change based on the number of students each undergraduate college wants to enroll and how many students the University can handle without being overburdened.

“You’re trying to balance [admitted students] out so we don’t place additional pressures on our colleagues around the campus, such as housing, classes and health services,” Melvin said.

According to data released by the University Registrar, enrollment increased from 13,510 students in 2007 to 14,167 students in 2011.

Melvin said that the class enrolling in Fall 2011 had approximately 125 more people than typical incoming classes. However, having too many students enroll because of an unexpectedly high yield — the percentage of admitted students who decide to attend — was “unusual for Cornell,” according to Melvin.

Preliminary data indicate that the entering class this year is comprised of approximately 3,270 students — a number Melvin said “we’re comfortable with.”

Though this year’s entering class will be, by administrators’ estimates, a manageable size, some students are still unhappy with how the housing staff handles the room assignments of incoming students.

When Elizabeth Kuzmenko ’16, for instance, filled out her housing preferences, she did not expect to be placed in a program house. However, when her housing assignment was released, she was assigned to Ujamaa Residential College, which “celebrates the rich and diverse heritage of Black people in the United States, Africa, the Caribbean and other regions of the world,” according to the Cornell Housing website.

“It’s rather difficult being in a program house when you didn’t personally want to be in one,” Kuzmenko said, noting that program houses are “pretty specific” to the people who requested to be in them. “It’s frustrating not having your housing request honored.”

Original Author: Caroline Flax