First-year class closer than ever

Incoming class grows in size, requiring some students into flex rooms

Preparing to move into college is a stressful process, but finding out you’ve been placed in a dorm made for two people with furniture for three can throw off any first-year student.

With an unusually large class of first-year students, Residential Life at the University of San Diego faced new challenges this summer when figuring out how to house all the incoming students. While traditionally first-year students overflowed into the San Antonio de Padua Apartments, this year the number of students was so great that Residential Life had to come up with a new solution: flex rooms. 

Flex rooms are rooms in first-year housing halls where an extra set of furniture was added to a room. Rooms that were originally doubles became triples, and some triples became quadruples. These new spaces affected about 90-100 new students in 35 dorm rooms. 

First year Stephanie Maeda found out she had two roommates over the summer, but realized she was in a flex room in Founders when she moved into the room. Maeda and her roommates were assigned to a double which was converted into a triple. 

“It’s been homey,” Maeda said. “We do the best we can with what we have, but we’re kinda cluttered. We had to buy a lot of drawers to put under [my roommate’s] bed and my bed. It’s also tight sharing two closets for two people. And it also gets tight with the [two sets of] desks and drawers.”

Maeda said that Residential Life has not reached out to her and her roommates to accommodate their situation.

“So [my roommate] put in a request to get her bed lifted on the first day we moved in, and I don’t think we’ve even heard back yet,” Maeda said. “They haven’t really reached out to us. But, besides the bed we haven’t really reached out for anything else.”

Additionally, Maeda said that some of their furniture is falling apart while other pieces are missing all together. 

“My roommate’s desk is falling apart,” Maeda said. “Every time she bumps into [her desk] a piece of it pops off. Also, we don’t have a ladder so she’s been climbing up the back of the bed to get onto the top bunk.”

Jordaine Tran is a first-year student living in a Maher flex room. Tran’s room is meant for three students, but has an added bed to accommodate four residents. Since she hasn’t lived in a dorm before, Tran said the news of living in a flex room did not affect her.

“I found out my roommates in late July or early August, but I found out I was in a flex on August 20,”  Tran said. “At first, I didn’t really know what it would mean and what size the room would be, so I was indifferent to it.”

Tran explained that while move-in was chaotic, she has had a positive experience in the flex room.

“The first week has been kind of hectic, but still really good,” Tran said. “There’s a lot of activities on campus, and I’ve never shared a room with anybody before, so I’m getting used to sharing a room and other things. I’ve definitely felt accommodated by Residential Life. My RA and SA are really nice, and are really responsive to all of the questions that I have.”

Dayanne Izmirian, the Assistant Dean of Residential Life, explained how the university tackled the challenge of having a larger incoming class. 

“I think USD did a good job of planning for this and thinking about what it meant [for the rest of campus],” Izmirian said. “We knew early on enough that we were going to have a larger class which is very exciting. And we were able to plan and think ahead how best to get students into the LLC program and comfortably placed. We worked very collaboratively and closely with our LLC partners, which are our Living-Learning Community partners to make sure that class sizes [for preceptorial classes] weren’t impacted, and we started that process early in the summer.”

Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students, Donald Godwin, weighed in on the flex spaces.  

“We met this challenge [of a larger class] by being creative and installing loft-style furniture in our increased occupancy rooms, also known as ‘flex rooms,’” Godwin said. “As I visited many of these students in their flex room during move-in day, most were pleased with the accommodations and appreciated the efforts made by the university to make students as comfortable as possible.”

Godwin explained that the first-year residential class grew from 1071 students to 1153 students in the last year. 

To ease the transition for the students in flex rooms, Izmirian explained how Residential Life prepared for the incoming students. 

“[We know] that it’s not ideal, but at least we’re trying to make the best of it for people that we can,” Izmirian said. “Instead of just putting another bed in there, we tried to do some creative things to offset and I think it makes an impact. We invested in some lofting units so that you can have a self-contained space, and we also are being very open to whatever furniture they want to have removed from their units.”

In the past, Residential Life has prohibited students from removing furniture from their dorms or apartments because the university does not have space to store it. But to help the flex-room students, the department created storage units to store any furniture that residents did not want in their rooms. 

As an added bonus, Residential Life partnered with the IT Department and selected the flex-room students to participate in a pilot program for USD Voice. USD Voice is an application available on Amazon Echo where users can ask Alexa, which is the automated voice feature of the Echo, about campus hours, upcoming events, and more. 

“We decided this year that we were going to do a pilot program because Information Technology Services is working through these voice options of having an Amazon Echo which is set up with some USD services,” Izmirian said. “We were going to pilot it in approximately 30-40 rooms, so we were thinking of doing it with a couple RAs. Instead, we did decide to pilot it in the flex rooms as a way to just give an added amenity to the space and something fun.”

In addition to furniture accommodations, Residential Life reduced the cost of the flex rooms and are giving those students priority to move if space opens up in other units. Godwin said that the rates were reduced by 25 and 33 percent, depending on whether the flex room was being shared by an additional third or fourth person.

“We also offered a break in the rate just as a way to make it more palatable,” Izmirian said. “Especially because they are impacted, the idea was not to generate more revenue off that, per se, but to break even and be responsible stewards of the university’s resources still.”

Izmirian noted that Residential Life made sure to communicate with the campus community early and often about the impact of the larger student class. They also put together off-campus resources with the Graduate Student Life Office to offset the impact.

Izmirian said that the incoming class did not affect housing for returning students who were required to live on campus, but may have affected transfer students and upperclassmen who were not required to live on campus. 

“There was definitely an impact on our non-required transfer students who might have chosen to live on campus, but we did, by the end of the summer, at least get to offer [housing] to our entire waitlist,” Izmirian said. “But, you know, probably a few of them who would have wanted to live on campus moved off campus because we didn’t have space when they were looking.”

Izmirian said that she did not notice that the larger, incoming class caused any negative effects over Olé weekend. 

“When I interacted with the class over Olé weekend, I have been really impressed with the spirit, the tenor, the positivity,” Izmirian said. “It seems like a really great class. But I always think that about every freshmen class. I just love working here and I love our students.”

According to Godwin, this  year’s large class is an anomaly, and the flex-rooms are only temporary. As first-year students adjust to their new housing and life on campus, time will tell if the residents’ attitudes toward flex rooms remain positive. 

Ellie Smith | Associate Editor | USD Vista