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Freshmen feel the pinch of growing enrollment

Something is off about Bear House 436.

The room still has the feel of a freshman dorm room, complete with Audrey Hepburn posters and Christmas lights that stay on the wall throughout the year.

But the 16-by-16 space is much more cramped than a double room should be.

Looking up can begin to explain the lack of space.

Two beds are bunked, while another is lofted with a desk under it. Two desks are strutted out in the middle of the room, necessary for just two of the residents of the room.

Any extra room would be a luxury here; any space for yourself is nearly impossible.

That’s the way it is in Bear House 436, otherwise known as a tripled-up double room and home for first-year students Carrie Chalker, Jennifer Shearon and Stephanie Pitts.

With rising enrollment, these tripled-up doubles have become an even larger element of Belmont freshman life despite the fast pace of new dorm construction, said Anthony Donovan, director of residence life.

Residence life initially prepared for 200 triples to be used in fall 2011. Around 180 of them were eventually used, and only around 125 are in use now, but Donovan said he expects an even higher number of triples will be necessary to accommodate next year’s freshman class.

“That’s been our biggest challenge,” he said. “We’ve had to be creative. And as each freshman class grows, our sophomore class is among the biggest ever.”

The actual number of incoming resident students is hard to predict since the total number of students isn’t confirmed until well into the summer.

Donovan compared the enrollment situation to Belmont to a closing faucet.

“The problem is when to turn the faucet off. You can still overflow the bucket below it,” he said.

Even when the bucket overflows, residence life is still required to provide housing for freshmen and sophomores who don’t commute. With this in mind, more rooms will be available for freshmen next year when Wright and Maddox halls will become all-freshman dorms for the first time since spring 2010.

“Our goal is to have housing not be an imperative to enrollment,” Donovan said.

At the very least, these additional but necessary triples change the dynamic of a dorm room and the experiences of many first year students.

While Bear House 436 was initially meant to be a double, the room has been reconfigured to fit three girls, their belongings, and their personalities.

“Originally, I don’t think we knew what to do with each other,” Chalker said. “Yet the three of us together balance each other out. We all have our moments.”

Even with those moments, the three have been able to bond and cooperate with each other to make their living situation work.

“We’re all mature enough not to get petty over stupid things,” Pitts said.

For many, living in a tripled-up double also changes the physical dynamic of the room, especially when it comes to personal space.

“Don’t expect to have a lot of people over to chill,” Pitts said. “There’s literally no place for them.”

With three people in the room, studying can also be a challenge.

“I learned I can’t concentrate here,” Chalker said. “I have to go to the lobby or the library.”

While many of the roommates’ concerns dealt with space issues, personal issues still arise, and sometimes in different ways.

Tripling up, Donovan said, brings an emotional experience that can still be similar to living in a typical double room.

“It’s not bad, but it’s different,” he said. “The same issues are there. They just tend to manifest themselves more quickly and more intensely.”

Emma Reeves, a second-year residence assistant at Patton and former triple resident, agreed, saying most of these issues are resolved early in the semester. For her, the additional dozen or so residents she has because of the extra triples this year have changed her responsibilities as an RA.

“It takes a lot of time,” she said. “Part of being an RA is having a personal relationship with all of your girls. It’s a lot harder to build 50 personal relationships in a month.”

The influx of students also makes it more challenging just to keep up with her residents.

“Some residents might get lost in the shuffle. It’s hard to notice when one of them is not leaving their room in two days or needs help,” she said.

Each of the three roommates acknowledged how often triples don’t work and considered themselves lucky to have ended up with each other in the triple.

While they don’t regret living in a triple together, if they had to do it again, all three would rather be in a double.

At least a double room that only houses two people.

“It would be nice to have the extra space,” Chalker said. “[Tripling] wouldn’t be our first choice, but we’d be OK with it.”

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