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Record number of students living on campus leaves Department of Residence life struggling to find space

Cameron Youngblood’s ’25 forced-triple with bunk beds on the top floor of Rathje Hall. Photo by Maddi Shinall.

A record-high enrollment for the class of 2025 and few students abroad has left the department of residence life at Grinnell College struggling to secure housing for all 1,470 students living on campus this semester.

“The numbers of first years have grown, and they have constantly grown … This year was just overwhelming for us,” said Dennis Perkins, assistant dean of residence life and student conduct.

The class of 2025 has 472 students compared to 370 in the class of 2024. And international border closures due to COVID-19 have dropped the number of students studying off-campus from approximately 145 to just 70.

All of this has made the College’s campus the most full it has ever been.

“We had talked about bringing in a trailer … We talked about hotels,” said Perkins. “We even thought about things like the Bear [Athletic Center]. Are there spaces in the Bear we could use [as housing] for a semester?”

Perkins said the College did not go through with these housing options because they knew the problem wouldn’t be temporary. If a student was housed in a trailer for the first week on campus, they’d likely stay there for the whole semester, if not longer.

Perkins and Lauren Myers, assistant director of housing operations, analyzed the floor plans of each residence hall to determine which rooms were large enough to be adjusted to house an extra student. Only rooms in which beds could be lofted were converted from doubles to forced triples.

Perkins added that the College made off-campus living applications and applications for language and project houses more lenient in order to free up space.

There are still five unoccupied singles on campus. These rooms are reserved for unexpected circumstances in which a student may need to switch rooms, such as feeling unsafe in their prior residence hall. Typically, the department tries to keep the number of unoccupied singles between four and seven at any given time.

Rumesa Qalbani `25 and her roommate Tori Richardson `25 occupy a forced double in the pit of James Hall. Qalbani said she didn’t realize she lived in a two-person single until she saw the dorm rooms of her friends and realized how small her room was compared to her friends.

Qalbani and Richardson have less than four feet of space between their beds. At the back wall, Qalbani and Richardson’s desks are squeezed into opposite corners. Between their two chairs is Richardson’s dresser and also a mini-fridge.

“There being furniture literally everywhere, wall to wall, makes it very hard to even get in your desk,” said Qalbani, who has to squeeze herself between her bed, fan, and dresser to work at her desk.

Extreme heat is also one of Qalbani and Richardson’s main difficulties with their space.

For five straight days, the temperature of their room was 82.5 degrees Fahrenheit. But Qalbani doesn’t think that reading is accurate, because they have a fan blowing air straight into the temperature gauge. Qalbani and Richardson have five fans in their room, yet Qalbani often sweats through the night and their posters fall off the walls due to humidity.

“The radiator is being hidden by the furniture. That’s definitely an issue … if that space is covered, then air can’t properly move around the room. And if I can’t open my window, I can’t even have the hot or cold air move out,” said Qalbani. “In the winter, I suspect the room will get colder a lot faster than it should.”

Cameron Youngblood `25, who lives in a forced triple on the third floor of Rathje Hall, also foresees the tight space becoming a bigger problem in the winter.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to have people in my dorm ever. That feels like an intrusion in [my roommate’s] space,” said Youngblood. “Finding a shared space when it gets colder about will definitely be outside my residence hall.”

Youngblood’s room came with beds already lofted, and the high ceilings of East Campus’s top floor add a roomier atmosphere to the dorm. But there is still little floor space.

“Moving in was a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, trying to find good places to put things,” said Youngblood, adding that he bought shoe racks for himself and his roommates because there wasn’t space on their floor for shoes.

Despite the situation, Youngblood said he thinks he got lucky, given the circumstances.

“I can’t imagine not liking my roommates, because there has to be so much cohesiveness between the three of us … We don’t have a lot of personal space, but it’s never suffocating or claustrophobic.”


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Nina Baker
Nina Baker, Staff Writer
Nina Baker is a fourth-year Russian major with a Russian, Central European and Eurasian Studies concentration from Lakeville, Minnesota. When she's not reporting for The Scarlet & Black, she loves taking long walks, reading, and learning foreign languages.
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