Res overcrowding policy scrutinized

MCRC is working with Residence and Hospitality Services to refurbish common rooms.
MCRC is working with Residence and Hospitality Services to refurbish common rooms.

Students living in residence who have been feeling more snug than usual may soon be given a bit of a break.

During an Oct. 24 Senate Residence Committee meeting, the Main Campus Residents’ Council (MCRC) put forward a motion seeking to acknowledge that the current residence overcrowding situation is a problem, and to explore both short-term and long-term solutions. The issue was referred to an Executive Agenda Committee.

MCRC President Alexis Meyerman said she wants to get the overcrowding issue out in the open, to discuss policies regarding overcrowding and to improve the residence experience for students affected by it.

“We haven’t acknowledged, never officially, that overcrowding is something bad,” she said. “Because if you say something’s bad, you have to make accommodations for it, and we haven’t always been willing to make accommodations for [overcrowding in residence].”

Meyerman said overcrowding has been a cyclic problem, but that the MCRC has often only acted on student complaints later in the year.

“Often that was kind of a reactive measure: students came to complain, so the MCRC did something,” she said. “What we knew this year coming in was students were going to be unhappy, or at least there were going to be concerns about overcrowding. And so we decided to be proactive about it, instead of waiting for [students] to come in and ... express how unhappy they were.”

Roxy Denniston-Stewart, associate dean of student affairs, said there are 88 more students in residence this year than in 2003, but added she was hesitant to call the current situation “overcrowding.”

“That’s one of the questions that needs to be discussed: what, if anything, constitutes overcrowding?” she asked. “I believe that all the students in residence are well-served, that they are having a good residence experience and the fact that there are more students in residence than previous years is not unusual—it’s the norm.”

Denniston-Stewart added that there is a fluctuation in residence population every year, and that it’s very difficult for the University to gauge in advance how many students will be living in residence, because not all first-year students offered a place at Queen’s accept it.

“Because we’re dealing with human behaviour, it is very difficult, almost impossible, to predict how students will respond to an offer,” she said.

Meyerman agreed that overcrowding situations have happened before, but said that both students and parents voiced concerns over this year’s crowded residence conditions.

“I got complaints this summer from a few parents. When it was first realized that there was going to be an overcrowding situation, some parents panicked because they were getting messages that said that [their children] would be in temporary housing ... or that they’d be in double rooms or triple rooms,” she said. “A lot of students from Victoria Hall and Gordon-Brockington have been approaching the house presidents and house councils, not so much because they’re angry about the situation, but just because at this point they’d like accommodation for it.”

Meyerman said the main problem at this point is a lack of common space, as several common rooms have been converted into residence rooms to accommodate the influx of students.

“We’re concerned about cooking space, because on Sunday, particularly, when there’s no cafeteria meals, everyone at [Victoria Hall] wants to cook in the two common rooms that are leftover, and that causes a problem,” she said.

Seth Logan, Sci ’09, said he’s noticed less common space in residence.

“I’m affected because [my friend is living] in my common room,” he said. “No one has access to the kitchen.”

Director of Residence and Hospitality Services Bruce Griffiths said the first residences whose common rooms are being considered for refurbishment with TVs and furniture are Victoria Hall and Gordon-Brockington.

“Certainly those are the buildings that have seen the greatest level of impact,” he said.

Griffiths said that changes currently under consideration include refurbishing the Gordon-Brockington common room and placing dividers in lower Victoria Hall, which is currently a large and fairly empty room.

“[Right now] it’s like going into any large place: if there aren’t a lot of people in it, it looks empty and people don’t want to stay,” he said.

Griffiths added that dividers could make the space cozier and more welcoming for students by creating two smaller alcoves, which could be furnished with televisions and couches. A larger open area would remain between the two alcoves, which might be furnished later on.

“We’re trying to get some spaces that somewhat replicate the common rooms, at this point, for a larger number of people,” Griffiths said.

He said that while nothing is final, changes to Victoria Hall and Gordon-Brockington Hall could be finished by January.

“We’ve had one meeting at this point and different people have gone off to explore different options,” he said. “When they’re ready with those options we’ll meet again. “Really, once we’ve made our decision it’ll just depend on deliveries at that point.”

Meyerman said in addition to short-term solutions to the current situation, the Executive Agenda Committee—made up of the associate dean of student affairs, the chair of the Ban Righ Board, the Jean Royce Hall Council president and the MCRC president—has been given the task of looking at the policy side of the issue.

“[We should] look beyond this specific class and more to the future, like ‘in situations of overcrowding, how does Queen’s react?’ ” Meyerman said. “When do we actually call it overcrowding?

How many students over is overcrowding?” She said there is also a possibility of looking into special training for dons or council staff in cases of overcrowding.

“It’s a little different to deal with a floor dynamic with rooms where everyone’s where they’re designed to be, rather than dealing with kids who are living in more cramped quarters and maybe are having more floormate problems,” Meyerman said.

This way, if there is another situation of overcrowding in years to come, the University will have a policy in place, she said.

Denniston-Stewart said she thinks the University’s choice to increase the number of students in residence was preferable to an alternative of refusing first-year students a room in residence.

“I would say it’s a very good response, and again, you have to look at, compared to what? What are the alternatives?” she said. “To me, the obvious alternative would be to have those students not have the Queen’s experience, not to live in residence.”

Meyerman said that changing residence policy on overcrowding would be a complex issue, given how variable the demand for residence can be. But she said an initiative to examine the current situation is necessary.

“The MCRC motion was less [to] stop overcrowding, because we understand that’s not always possible, and more, ‘Well, overcrowding happens, and it’s a bad thing, people are disadvantaged by it,’ ” Meyerman said. “So what are we going to do in that situation to help them as much as we can?”

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