On Thursday, May 6, the college updated students on housing plans for the fall semester. Because the administration anticipates an over-enrollment of 170 students this fall, it is planning to make significant modifications to housing stock. The increased enrollment is due to the return of students who elected to take a gap year or leave of absence during the 2020-2021 academic year due to the pandemic or other circumstances.
To provide housing for the over-abundance of returning Mammoths, the college plans to convert residential lounges into rooms and many single-person dorm rooms into double occupancy. “We will make temporary modifications to some larger rooms to increase their residential capacity,” Chief Student Affairs Officer Karu Kozuma told The Student. “Many of these rooms were originally configured for higher occupancy, and we believe each student will have adequate space for living and learning.”
Despite the changes to dorm infrastructure, the housing selection process will not be altered. In an email sent to all students on May 6, Kozuma communicated that students will receive housing assignments in a process similar to that of the past year. The procedure will be preference-based. That means students will form room groups and submit a ranked list of their preferred dorms from which the Office of Residential Life will decide. The college will not prioritize housing for students who continued enrollment over those who decided to take a leave this past year, Kozuma added.
Kozuma also recapitulated information from previous announcements, stating that the college expects to return to “pre-pandemic academic and student life as much as we can next fall.” This means that off-campus students will be allowed to commute to and from the college to attend classes, eat at the dining halls and take part in on-campus social events. Kozuma relayed that students living on campus will be allowed to go off campus as well.
Additionally, Kozuma noted that the maximum number of students allowed to live off-campus will remain at 50, the same as previous years. As of now, the college is conducting the off-campus housing portion of the housing selection process. The application process will be open until Wednesday, June 30, 2021 or until the college meets its 50-person cap.
Following the news of over-enrollment, the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) invited Kozuma and Dean of Students Liz Agosto to answer student questions at an AAS meeting on May 10, though Agosto was unable to attend due to an illness. When asked if the college might convert first-year dorms into sophomore housing, Kozuma stated that the college aims to continue the tradition of centralizing the first-year class on the main quad. As a result, Kozuma said, “Most likely triples are going to be focused on the entering class.” At the meeting, Kozuma assured students that more details will be shared in the coming weeks before starting the housing selection process, which is set to begin towards the end of May.
Many students worry that overpopulating the college will have negative implications for the housing process, and also for the safety and quality of life at Amherst. The solution to this problem, several students believe, is allowing more students to live off-campus.
Nina Krasnoff ’23 said that her friends are nervous about the housing process and fear that they will have little control over where they end up living. “Most of my friends are also concerned because they thought as juniors we could get singles and now there’s a worry about going back to having roommates,” she said. She fears that her friend group will end up in a bad housing situation.
Nate Mosse ’23 is troubled by the prospect that over-enrollment could impact junior and senior housing, specifically. He mentioned that the level of housing restrictions has made several of his friends strongly consider taking a year off or transferring. “Almost all of my friends are very disappointed with the fall housing announcement,” he said. “They are mostly upset with the fact that we won’t be allowed to choose our own rooms. Choosing to live in a specific dorm is a part of Amherst that we have looked forward to.”
The key to having enough space for the upcoming semester and ensuring safe conditions for all, Krasnoff believes, is allowing more students to live off-campus. “In light of there not being enough space next year, I think they should allow more students to live off campus. I also think the college could purchase off-campus housing if they wanted to have more control over it,” she said.
Tim Song ’22 had the same inclination as Krasnoff. He thinks that providing more leeway with housing would alleviate stress in an already suffocating situation. During a non-pandemic academic year, the number of on-campus students typically declines as students study abroad. But Song noted the possibility that the rising junior class may send far fewer students abroad than normal, which would further increase the on-campus student body size. The same concern was echoed by Kozuma during the AAS meeting.
“Given the overpopulation of the college, the benefits in Covid-19 safety in reducing overpopulation by providing more off-campus housing options seems like they would outweigh any potential dangers,” Song said.
When asked about the 50-person maximum at the AAS meeting, Kozuma responded that the college enforces the 50-person limit in order to keep students on campus with the hope of creating a better sense of community. He also shared that the college will maintain a 50-person cap because [the college] “has never really reached it before.” He continued to say that the college is “hoping that people [will] consider the option, but we don’t want people to feel forced that they’re going off campus.”
Kozuma added that off-campus students will still be held accountable for following college policy. “There will likely be a continuation of health and travel protocols to some degree, including, but not limited to, limitations on gathering sizes, a testing protocol, and isolation protocols for students who contract the virus,” he said.
Students are also dissatisfied with the college’s decision to assign rooms to students instead of having them choose rooms themselves. For example, Song noted that a close friend of his requested a well-lit room this semester. The friend valued this specific request over their residential building. “While ResLife stated that this housing selection system was more efficient on average in getting students the buildings that they want, the building isn’t necessarily the only factor in deciding on a room. Factors such as windows and location of room in the building — like floor, near bathrooms, etc. — are equally important for some students in making a decision on where to live,” Song expressed.
Leandro Arcos Roman ’24 is worried about implications of over-enrollment that go beyond housing issues. “On one side, I feel slightly concerned because of safety measures, even though most of the college population will be vaccinated. We do have to consider, though, that the college may not be able to legally require staff and faculty to get the vaccine shot,” Roman relayed. Roman also noted his worry that Amherst could have problems with room occupancy when planning for lectures.
Overall, students are apprehensive about the college’s future housing prospects. Moses said, “It’s not fair that Amherst has promised a certain standard of housing and autonomy concerning our housing situation, and then, when they remove that autonomy and standard of quality, they [aren’t] allowing other options.”