Residence life in 2020

By Nolan Davidson, COM 250 Reporter

Edited by Michaela Miller, COM 303 Reporter

MOUNT BERRY, Ga. — As a result of the ongoing pandemic, Residence Life had to rearrange housing in an unusual way this year to properly accommodate all students.

Between study abroad programs being canceled, a very large freshman class, and the need to preemptively allocate quarantine space, housing assignments were much tighter than usual this year. In previous years, Residence Life has experienced something called a “melt” of students: essentially a drop-off in enrollment over time leading up to the start of the semester, which frees up space. This year, however, there was no melt. Berry College being in person when many schools were not was a huge draw. While there was never a concern of being physically unable to house every student, the distribution of residences presented a unique problem.

“We knew we had enough beds on campus,” assistant director of Residence Life Stephen Swieton said. “But the beds were not where we needed them to be.”

To make room for all the freshmen, Residence Life had to convince returning students assigned to freshman-eligible communities to “upgrade” into different spaces; for example, asking students in two doubles within Dana to be moved into a townhouse could then allow room for four more freshmen in Dana. But even this was not quite enough. The solution ended up being to put some students who were not involved in the WinShape College Program onto the first floor of Pilgrim Hall on Mountain Campus. Some students every year do not make it back to campus last second or transfer elsewhere without properly withdrawing. And as that started to happen this semester, people on that floor could return to Main Campus.

“We were able to move all but four of the students from the first floor of Pilgrim down,” Swieton said. “We could have moved all of them, but after living up there, four students requested to stay.”

One of the four students remaining in that hall today is second-year student Gene McCoy, who received the call this summer about his tenuous housing assignment. He was given the choice of being housed in Pilgrim Hall or paying the extra fee to live in a townhouse. McCoy opted for a year on Mountain Campus, and has experienced a variety of pros and cons.

“My roommate never showed up,” McCoy said. “But Pilgrim is an old building, and it is not as well insulated.”

He appreciates the physical environment and atmosphere of Mountain Campus, particularly for its peacefulness and beauty. And as for fitting into the WinShape environment, there has not been any noticeable divide at all. In fact, the unusual situation has been rather entertaining, as he is routinely mistaken for a new WinShaper.

“They’re in a very, very tight-knit community, and they all know each other,” McCoy said. “So I’m very popular up there just because people constantly come up to me and ask me who I am.”

He said that while his experience has been different, it is not a “bad different” by any means. The physical divide has posed a slight challenge – he laments an occasional natural exclusion as a result of being on Mountain Campus, and certainly makes good use of Zoom to embrace the online aspect of his classes. But not all students who were placed on the hall had their situation work out so well.

“We had some guys who lived up there for a few weeks, and they didn’t have a car,” Head Resident of Mountain Campus Colt Doster said. “The only reason they were up there is because they forgot to fill out their housing application. And that stinks, that you forget to do one thing and suddenly it’s a big inconvenience for you.”

The Pilgrim outsiders who have opted to stay continue to be welcomed by the WinShape community. And WinShape is hopeful to give them a community of their own, even though they are in an unusual position.

“We are working on moving them upstairs,” Doster said. “So that way they can live on a hall with other people. But we’ve been juggling many things recently.”

The nuances of housing around 2,000 students certainly cannot be easily contained, especially with a year that had so many additional challenges going in. Nevertheless, the first floor of Pilgrim Hall remains an interesting case.

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