Since returning from fall semester study abroad programs, several upperclassmen have been assigned to dorms on East Campus traditionally reserved for first-year and Duke Kunshan University students.
At the start of the spring semester, 23 formerly-abroad juniors were assigned to East House, an East Campus dorm otherwise occupied by DKU students, according to Marijean Williams, director of housing assignments and planning. As of Jan. 26, only eight still resided in East House. The other students were moved to rooms on West Campus as space became available.
Such displacements are emblematic of the unique set of challenges that come with managing housing assignments for the spring semester. One of the biggest issues is predicting how many students are going to leave campus from the fall to the spring.
“It’s complicated. It’s complex,” Dean for Residence Life Deb LoBiondo said. “We know who’s graduating at the end of the semester and we know who’s leaving, but we don’t know the rest, really. So we’re constantly looking at the data, which is no easy feat.”
Williams agreed, adding that “it’s more than just the juniors returning from abroad.”
Housing and Residence Life also has to manage students on the waitlist for housing accommodations, who get priority over students returning from study abroad, as well as students returning from leaves of absence or other pursuits.
All students are put into a pool together and given a lottery number according to their class year. “We try to make the best assignments that we can, based on what their preferences are and what the space available is for us,” Williams said.
Though 23 students were originally assigned to East House, Williams noted that the priority was to enable all students who met the housing application deadline to move to West Campus as rooms became available.
“Everyone who met the deadline is in the situation that they want to be in right now,” said Williams.
Those who stayed on East Campus largely did so in order to live with their preferred roommate, which may not have been a possibility if they were moved to West Campus. The roommate issue was a “very important piece to this puzzle,” according to LoBiondo.
Junior Jax Nalley is currently living with his preferred roommate in East House. The Housing Office contacted him in December to give him the option between living with a randomly assigned roommate on West Campus or with his preferred roommate in East House.
“Both of us preferred not to live with someone random,” he wrote. “I definitely don’t think this is the most common post-abroad housing arrangement. Most people I know ended up on West Campus.”
The process of spring housing assignments was complicated this year due to the much larger number of juniors who studied abroad during the fall semester compared to those studying away during the spring semester.
“We had 600 students return from study away in the fall and only 100 leave,” Williams said. “That right there, we’re already imbalanced.”
Additionally, the underlying trend is that more students, including juniors and seniors, want to live on campus.
“It’s the perfect storm,” Williams said. “We have a finite number of rooms that we can assign, and we’ve got more students than rooms. It’s a matter of working through all of that.”
“I think housing did a decent job,” wrote junior Sofia Hletko, who was abroad last semester and is currently an RA for juniors in East House. “It’s a tough situation having too many people and not enough spots, but from what I have heard they have moved everyone who wanted to be moved.”
Though the system isn’t perfect, Williams and LoBiondo emphasized the behind-the-scenes efforts of the Assignments office, saying that they “did everything in [their] bag of tricks to make housing assignments.” This included contacting students about swapping their randomly assigned roommates to better fulfill preferred roommate pairings.
In the future, Williams says that the office is working to be more proactive in encouraging consolidation among students living alone in double rooms, though Duke has no mandatory consolidation policy.
“There’s not much we can do with our physical buildings [to] add space,” Williams said. “… We have had a lot more interest from students to live on campus in the last two years.”
“The assignments office works really, really hard to wait until that magical double room comes open,” LoBiondo said. “… This year was way more challenging because we didn’t get the attrition that we thought we would.”
Though he said that East House is “no Shangri-La,” Nalley is happy with his housing and plans to stay in East House with his roommate for the rest of the semester.
Apart from the hassle that would come from moving mid-semester, he has found a sense of community within East House. He and his roommate have started nightly ping-pong matches with their fellow junior East House residents.
“There are plenty of things that I complain about at this point in my life, but living a short bus ride away from my classes just doesn’t make the cut anymore,” Nalley wrote.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Kate Haver is a Trinity first-year and a staff reporter for the news department.