Improving the School or Ruining the Student Experience?

Skidmore College currently has a large over crowding problem in the dorms. Due to increased need for money to fund to their new, desperately needed science building, Skidmore has had to cramp students and convert common spaces into rooms.

This lack of space is becoming a problem for the student experience. Due to the lack of space, Skidmore had to convert common spaces in the dorm into new rooms over the summer. These new rooms did decrease the number of students in forced triple rooms, however, they did take away that vital common space for students.

In an interview with Julia Budsey ‘19 and RA in Johnson Tower, she explained how her residents are suffering for lack of space to convene and how this is hurting their community. “Many of my residents have complained about not having a common space to congregate.”

She later talks about how the first year students do not know the difference of having common rooms, however the lack of space makes it difficult to foster a sense of community. “I wont hold any more meetings since theres no place to. Its hard to create a space of community when nobody has a space to hang out thats general. I think that most people who live on my floor don’t know anybody else who lives outside their suite.”

The sense of community building with people you are living around is a large part of the first year experience at Skidmore. The idea of “integrative learning” is frequently used by the administration in order to discuss how Skidmore will approach learning. Students used to be housed with their Scribner Seminars in order to create this living and learning space. This, too, has been discontinued in recent years although the cause is unknown.

Karen Hafter ’19 agrees with Budsey’s comments on the lack of community living in the dorms. “The only space where I could be outside my room [but still in my dorm] was the kitchen or the study room without natural light.” These spaces should be more welcoming if they are the only escape that students have from their rooms.

Having a space to escape is not only important for students who need some time alone, it is also important for students who may have issues with roommates as a way to cool off and get away while still staying in the building. Hafter explains, “I was experiencing trouble with my roommate and having to be in one very small space like not being able to go out and do my homework out in a common area was tough.”

Michaela Ritz ’17 is a senior with a unique perspective. Skidmore has a large on campus apartment complex which allows many junior and senior students to move out of dorms. Many students who are living in the dorms at Skidmore now may not notice the increase in people or lack of common space since they are unaware that it was once there. Dorothy Parsons ’17 explained how first year students may not be missing the common space since they never knew it was there, and explained that it was under utilized when students did have the option to use it. Ritz has chosen to stay in the dorms all four years of her college career and was able to explain some of what she has seen evolve over her four years at Skidmore. She explains how the dining hall is becoming so packed that a single person is unable to find a seat.

Over her time here, each year the dining hall has become more and more busy. The volumes in the dining hall are so high that lines are reaching out and creating long wait times just to get into the dining hall. This also creates large influx’s of students which puts an increased pressure on the dining hall staff.

Skidmore has been increasing students by over enrollment which has been speculated to alleviate some of the pressures the Center for Integrated Science (CIS) has put on the budget in recent years. This project is expected to cost nearly $100 Million and Skidmore hasn’t quite raised what is needed. Is this hindered student experience worth this?

Ritz explains that living in a place with a common area is not necessary to the college in her experience, however, it “encourages shared interaction.” This is a huge aspect of the Skidmore experience with it’s desire to create spaces for students to engage in integrative learning.

Skidmore’s Strategic Plan Creating Paths to Excellence: The Plan for Skidmore College 2015–2025 states, “Realizing the full promise of integrative learning requires that students be self‐ aware and intentional about making meaningful connections across traditional and nontraditional boundaries.” Integrative learning is not only within the classroom, surrounded by faculty members in a formal learning space, but also outside in the conversations students take outside of the classroom in more informal settings. In order to begin to make connections students must have access to one another in an informal yet public place.

Common spaces previously gave students a unique opportunity to gather as a community and create informal discourse on topics which students both were interested in. Some of my own favorite moments stemmed from late night study sessions which turned into debates over the role of women in politics. These informal moments are the ones where we can learn the most and begin to transform into educated and informed young people.

This begs the question — does this hindered student experience make up for the innovation that will become our new science building? Does the school value future excellence and recognition over the current experience? Although it is not clear the administration’s point of view on this issue, I assume that they are concerned with the student experience but also need to be cognizant of the importance of updating our science facilities in order to remain an attractive college to both students and faculty interested in the sciences.