September 29, 2022

WEIRENS | Jam-Packed: The Cons of Increased Enrollment

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It was a typical lunch break at Terrace, one of the main central campus BRB dining halls. “You know the drill,” I said to my friend. As we began our 35-minute wait for a burrito, our friend took our bags and hurried off to claim an open table before they all filled with the lunch rush. This experience is typical for Cornellians. Trillium, Okenshields and other BRB locations on central campus face a similar crush of students. Visiting Trillium at noon requires a morning of mental preparation, both for the stroke-inducing lines and the subsequent fight to get a table. Places like the Temple of Zeus which are supposed to be quick café stops turn into more than half-hour ordeals for a sandwich or cup of soup.

Overcrowding, as evident in the central campus dining halls, is an increasingly problematic issue at Cornell. Basic services like dining, housing and classes are bursting at the seams due to rapid enrollment increases in recent years. Consequently, comically long lines and jam-packed spaces dominate all aspects of campus life.

The North Campus expansion sits at the core of this issue. In 2021, they opened two new residence halls: Toni Morrison and Ganędagǫ Halls. By 2022, they had enrolled approximately 2,000 additional students with the building of Hugh Chi Minh and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Halls, but made no accommodations besides beds to support this increase in students. Morrison Dining is a fantastic addition; however as they opened Morrison Dining, they closed Robert Purcell Dining hall, canceling out the capacity benefit of this expansion. Despite living in Morrison Hall, I eat there no more than once a week, due to the never-ending lines.  

This space issue grows beyond North Campus and further leeches into higher branches of student life. Pre-enrollment is a cutthroat click race to get into your classes, where many don’t fully succeed despite clicking “enroll” the second sign-up opens. Collegetown housing for upperclassmen is already a bloodbath, and the new student surge will put further strain on the already struggling housing market. 

The greatest annoyance, by far, is the Robert Purcell Community Center mail room line. Especially in the beginning of the year, students living on North Campus spent ridiculous amounts of time trying to get their packages, with a line typically between a half-hour to an hour long. The scene that greeted me each day was worthy of a bread line in a communist state. Two lines snaked through the entirety of the lobby, where dozens of students were sitting on the ground with their computers, meals, phones or homework, slowly scooting forward inches at a time. It was pathetic to see what a 70k-per-year education got these first-years. People would line up early in the morning in an attempt to dodge this notorious wait, long before the mailroom room even opened, only to find an impressive queue already formed. By mid-September, the administration finally responded to this glaring issue with an email telling students to stop ordering packages. This action had little effect, and the endless lines persist. 

I would propose three solutions to the administration to help alleviate this overcrowding issue. For starters, stop growing class sizes. Improve the quality of life for existing ones, then think about expansion. Secondly, build the proper infrastructure to keep up with the bigger student body. This would look like at least one more dining hall on North Campus and Central Campus and more gyms, mailrooms and classes offered. 

Lastly, consider redistributing the existing students on campus for future years. West Campus has five official dining halls for the five residence halls, with short or nonexistent lines at these dining halls and surrounding services like the mailrooms or gym. North Campus, on the other hand, has three dining halls for about 14 dorms and surrounding program houses, with an understandable effect on density. I suggest that they move the minority of sophomores that live on North Campus to West Campus, where building more housing would provide capacity for such a maneuver and would unite the sophomore class with a common living space. Having random groupings of sophomores spread throughout South, West and North campus unnecessarily fragments the class — and moving them all to West Campus is the most sensible solution in terms of both resources and community. 

Bringing a Cornell education to as many people as possible is a mission I support. However, based on current student life experiences, there seems to be a lack of appropriate infrastructure to support such an agenda. In the future, I hope the administration will address both these current needs while pursuing a policy of heightened moderation of enrollment in the long term. 

Aurora Weirens is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. The Northern Light runs alternate Thursdays this semester.