Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

A bed is stacked on top of another in first-year "forced triple" rooms.

February 11, 2020

A Cramped Start to College: First-Year Students Brave Assigned Forced Triples

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As move-in day rolls in, rows of cars push their way to prime parking spots. All around eager freshmen begin the endless trips to-and-from their rooms, weighed down by bags, belongings and the looming adjustments of living alone.

At Cornell, though, some students get a little less space to deal with all of this.

Living in a Low Rise or a similar style building can be uncomfortable. Residents of “forced triples” — where three beds are fit into a room originally meant for two —  are left looking for answers and extra space.

While the forced triples elicit mixed reactions, residents agree that the spaces are too tight.

Alexa Wong ’23, a forced triplet, doesn’t mind her living situation in Low Rise 6, but she acknowledged that she resides in close quarters.

Lauren Thomas ’23, on the other hand, finds the room to be a little too claustrophobic.

“Though I really love [Just About Music], I don’t feel like I have a super comfortable place within JAM to live,” said Thomas, who currently resides in a forced triple in the musical dorm.

The typical set-up of a forced triple is two sets of bunk beds — one with a top and bottom bunk and the other contains a bed on top with a desk space below.

For Thomas, it is confusing that doubles in their dorm appear to be about the same size — if not bigger — than their triple rooms.

“The double at the end of my suite is bigger than my room,” she said. “I heard that if [the room is] a corner room it means that they’re bigger so that’s probably it… I feel if they at least switch them [so that] the triples are in the doubles, that would make much more sense.”

Thomas and Wong agreed that within the forced triple’s setup, the best strategic selection is the bunk with desk beneath. Both saw the space underneath the bed as the space that offers to most room for one person.

“That is my own space that [my roommates] don’t really go into,” Thomas said. “I really value that … [but] they don’t have that — and that kind of sucks.”

Aron Zhou ’23, who possesses the coveted bunk with a desk beneath, believes that either that spot or the bottom bunk is the most advantageous, since there is easier access to the bed.

Regardless of position, space most often becomes an issue in terms of storage.

“We run out of space to put things if we get new stuff,” Wong said.

Zhou also mentioned how, as an ROTC cadet, he has to fit additional gear in the room along with the others’ belongings.

The forced triples don’t leave for much literal breathing room, either. Thomas described one instance in which her roommate fell sick. Since the small room was ripe for cross contamination, Thomas got sick shortly after, and ended up in the emergency room.

Although not officially titled a “forced triple” on the Cornell Housing website, it does mention that triples in Low Rise 5, 6 and 7 contain a “space-saving wardrobe/bureau combination,” which differs from “a closet and a bureau” in single and double rooms. Low Rise “forced triples” have also grabbed the attention of local publications.

“We do our best to accommodate everyone’s housing needs to the extent that we can,” wrote Karen Brown, senior director of Campus Life Marketing and Communications, in an email to The Sun. “Not all triples are the same size, of course, but any room housing three students is large enough and equipped for three students.”

Cornell isn’t alone in this undesirable trend. Colleges across the country house students in forced triples. While it is acknowledged that an advantage of forced triples is reduced price of living, other advantages are hard to come by.

Although too close for comfort, Zhou said that one silver lining has been those who share the small space with him.

“Definitely, I was lucky with my roommates,” Zhou said. “They’ve made [living in a forced triple] a lot more bearable.”

In terms of her plans for next year, Thomas said she wants to live in JAM again, but only if she is placed in a single. Wong hopes to live on West Campus, which doesn’t offer rooms for three and Zhou is not quite sure yet, although he desires to move out of a forced triple.

Though none of the three freshmen are completely sure of where they’ll live next year, all of them will surely be looking to find a better space-per-person ratio.