Lucas Harsche ’23 is majoring in history and minoring in accounting. In addition to The Flat Hat, Lucas is also the treasurer for Swim Club and plays violin in the Symphony Orchestra. Email Lucas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed are the author’s own.
On March 22, 2013, the College of William and Mary announced that it had agreed to purchase the Williamsburg Hospitality House — now better known as One Tribe Place — in order “to address critical space needs for student housing and on-campus parking.” On Dec. 2, 2021, it was announced that One Tribe Place would be closing for the 2022–23 academic year despite having undergone significant renovations during 2020.
Ah, but don’t worry, because after nearly 10 years the College hasn’t quite overcome those critical space needs. With One Tribe Place out of the picture, the new plan for the upcoming academic year is to simply poach existing upperclassmen residence halls, Giles and Page Halls, for incoming freshmen housing, continuing a long-standing tradition of the College expanding its undergraduate ambitions beyond what is currently sustainable. Ah, tradition. What more could one expect from a 329-year-old institution?
So, is the correct solution for the College to simply accept less students? Of course not! You will never hear me advocate as such in this piece. Instead, perhaps it is time for the College to seriously update and expand its campus housing before it continues this concerning trend. The campus as currently designed is simply not capable of accommodating such continuous growth in its student population.
Consider these statistics. The freshman Class of 2023 had 1,545 enrolled students in the fall of 2019. At that time, the College was one of many universities facing a national enrollment crisis, and so in February 2020 announced their plan to scale up to 150 new students per year over a four-year period, with 600 new undergraduate students by fall 2025. We can see this plan carried out in real time with the current Class of 2025, who according to the Admissions Office measures at a class size of 1,686 students — a little below the 150 student mark, but still a considerable increase from my own freshman class two years ago. It is commendable that the College is on the path of helping more students to achieve a college education. At this rate, however, the College will have an undergraduate population of around 7,000 students by the fall of 2025. At the current levels of available housing on campus, does anyone reasonably believe that the College will be able to accommodate such growth?
As it is, the residence halls which are still available are in dire need of improvement and have been recognized as such since at least 2015, with no substantial improvements made since. In the College’s 2014 Campus Master Plan, it displays Fraternity Row, One Tribe Place and Chandler Hall as the only major residence halls having been completed or renovated within the past five years, and that was nearly 10 years ago. With exceptions such as Landrum Hall or Lemon Hall, few other residence halls have been seriously renovated since the 1970s or 1980s. Failure to sufficiently modernize these buildings — many of which are commonly ridden with mold, roaches and common leaks — can have dangerous repercussions for student health, as our community recently witnessed last fall when the College was forced to install air conditioning units on the top floors of several freshmen halls in response to an unprecedented high heat index. Left unaddressed, these chronic hazards could even lead to some halls being deemed unsuitable for residency, and then the lack of housing will only worsen.
In my current residence hall of Old Dominion, a filtered water fountain was only added this semester; my floor has a plug-in dehumidifier because the building itself is not built to withstand mold growth; and there are no elevators, ramps or any form of accommodations for residents with disabilities. As few residence halls that fulfill ADA requirements as there are already, this could provide yet another problem if residence halls continue to close in the wake of a growing student population. Given the price that we pay for housing, I wonder if any of the conditions that I have described above would be considered acceptable if the residence halls were simply hotels for tourists visiting Williamsburg, or if members of the Board of Visitors would feel comfortable allowing their own children to stay in such conditions for a full academic year.
But why can’t upperclassmen simply find other places to live off-campus? First, around the time that the College announced their ambitious plan for student population growth, they also wisely decided that students must live on campus for two full years compared to the previous one. Second, as many upperclassmen will tell you, not only are options for rent difficult and time-consuming to find on their own, but they are also considerably pricey relative to what many of the students at the College can afford. And while, contrary to popular belief, there may not be a formal “brothel law” in Williamsburg, Sec. 21-161.1 in Williamsburg’s city code states that “no more than three unrelated persons may occupy a single-family dwelling” unless the group has permission from the city. Is this a reasonable number of hoops to expect College students to jump through, short on time and stressed as they are already during the academic year?
Really, the only solution to this issue going forward is for the College to seriously plan expansion for more student housing in the coming years, and in the meantime actively renovate and secure its current residence halls to prevent any more halls suffering the same fate as One Tribe Place. To those who doubt the College’s current ability to accomplish all of this, I will only say this: As a freshman, I witnessed the fully-renovated Alumni House miraculously spring out of the ground within the span of a year. I have faith in the ability of the College to get things accomplished, at least those which it no doubt considers to be most important.