Caroline Coady calls herself the “chosen one” of Sproul Hall, a reference to Harry Potter’s nickname from J.K Rowling’s best-selling series.
A Penn State freshman living in one of the East Halls residential buildings, Coady has made peace with the reduced headroom above her bed, which is diagonally intersected by a blue wooden staircase leading to a second-story loft.
Her unconventional yet cozy corner — reminding her of Harry Potter’s room — comes with her assignment to what’s known as supplemental housing. It’s something many freshmen are experiencing as Penn State Housing scrambled to accommodate an unexpected spike in first-year enrollment.
The use of supplemental housing exploded after nearly 1,000 more students accepted offers of admission compared with the Class of 2019, said Clark Brigger, executive director for Undergraduate Admissions.
Rather than the standard dorm room with two students, supplemental housing — overflow spaces scattered across campus — accommodates a maximum of four or eight people per room.
The last to arrive on move-in day, Coady said one of her six roommates sent a picture of the spot that was seemingly reimagined from Harry Potter’s closet bedroom situated below a staircase.
“It was this dinky, little bed with a dresser and a desk,” said Coady, a Bridgewater, N.J., native.
On two adjoining walls, four of Coady’s roommates have loft-style beds above desks and dressers tucked into small, dimly lit spaces. Two more loft-style beds, side by side, dominate the center of the room.
Based on projected admissions yields in November 2015, Penn State Director of Ancillary Services Jennifer Garvin said she had reserved a little more than 7,800 beds for first-year students.
“As we were moving along in spring it was looking OK, and then April hit,” Garvin said. “It was the end of April and it was like boom, we have a problem.”
At one point, there were 1,300 more housing contracts than there were available beds.
Emails were sent to verify if first-year students were committed to Penn State. If not, their $330 deposit would be refunded — a policy Undergraduate Admissions had never used before, Garvin said.
Upperclassmen were able to withdraw from on-campus housing contracts without incurring a penalty, but only about 60 students took the deal.
As Garvin said, she’s been “around the block” a few times and knows how to “conservatively” stretch and create living spaces.
Beds and dressers, for example, were installed in the lounge and kitchenette areas of renovated South Halls suites.
Garvin said she found more beds by increasing the number of first-year students assigned to supplemental housing. Her prediction of 560 freshmen in supplemental space grew to about 850.
Jovanna Yenchi, a freshman from Ashburn, Va., lives with three roommates in a converted unit in East’s Snyder Hall.
Her strained laugh summed up her perception of the cramped room that still has “Study, 221 Cameron House” printed on its door.
“There is no space, but that is the bare, basic minimum of our problems,” Yenchi said. “We can’t even stuff things under our beds because we can’t elevate them, and we have to share part of one bed space with someone if it’s a bunked bed.”
Yenchi said Penn State falsely represented the conditions in supplemental housing, making the rooms appear more spacious in online photos.
Roommate Dianne Chung, from Montvale, N.J., agreed and said they shouldn’t be penalized with subpar living arrangements for committing to Penn State in late April.
Garvin said she understands their perspective since the supplemental rooms are often unique.
“We have many different supplemental rooms, so we ask students if they’d be willing to let us take pictures,” Garvin said. “We get what we can to display on the website.”
Garvin said it’s beyond her control if first-year students don’t read online guidebooks outlining housing protocols and timelines. Still, she said a supplemental housing survey will be distributed soon to gauge students’ experiences and preferences for relocating.
Despite using all the tools at her disposal, Garvin’s methods weren’t enough come July 18, the day room assignments were announced.
Vacancies were still scattered about campus but filling them would merge upperclassmen and first-year housing, Garvin said. Freshmen transitioning into college cannot be placed in on-campus apartments designated for upperclassmen, Garvin said, because they lack the community environment that freshmen need.
That’s when she and colleagues decided to “pull the trigger,” she said, delaying renovations scheduled to close Stuart Hall, a 320-person residence hall, for this year.
“By Aug. 12, anybody that we had not processed an assignment for, we automatically had to assign to Stuart Hall,” Garvin said. “Everybody had a bed at the end of the day, but some of the rooms are crowded.”
The dorm will instead undergo upgrades starting in the spring semester, meaning that its 150 occupants then must find new on-campus housing arrangements, Garvin said.
For Ashley Smithers, a freshman in Stuart Hall, the $500 credit awarded for the inconvenience of moving, and preferential treatment for selecting a room in the spring, are not enough.
Smithers said she has already grown close to fellow residents on her floor and thinks that disbanding midyear partially ruins the freshman experience.
“It just feels like we’re a number,” Smithers, of Cranbury, N.J., said.
For Garvin’s staff, the housing headache is over — at least for now.
As for Coady and her Harry Potter-esque supplemental unit, the memory will resurface every time she crawls into bed, ducking slightly to avoid hitting her head on the staircase just inches away.
Alison Kuznitz is a Penn State journalism student.