The trouble with triples: forced triples cause first years unnecessary stress

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Illustration by Margot Heron
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Occidental College sold the idea of forced triples as a no-frills fix to increasing student body sizes, but just because the college can fit three people in a room doesn’t mean it should. Forced triples have a significant impact on how comfortable the first year of college feels; they are neither a sustainable nor sensitive solution to the needs of students transitioning to life away from home.

Occidental’s class of 2022 has 565 students, tying as the third largest class in the history of the college. The numbers are indicative of a greater trend of rising admissions numbers. This has caused a significant increase in the number of forced triples — triples containing students who requested a double room. These rooms were not originally built to house three students. There is not enough floor space to fit three beds, so the third bed is bunked. Each room has three desks, three dressers, two closets, one refrigerator, one microwave and limited floor space. Most triples have air conditioning, but not all do.

I am one of many first years that live in a room like that, which has one too many lovable roommates. When we filled out our roommate agreement, we laughed at the question about shared spaces.

“What common space?” “Should we each take turns standing in the middle of the room?” We joked that common space does not exist because there is no space not filled with a bed or a desk. But in reality, all of our space is a common space and there is no place that is fully “mine.”

This kind of sharing also applies to germs. A second roommate is a second person to get you sick. Last week, in an email to the student body, Emmons Wellness Center reported several cases of influenza on campus, adding that this is earlier than normal for the flu season to begin. Influenza is a highly infectious virus and if the great number of forced triples this year is not causing an earlier outbreak, it’s at least compounding the situation.

Many first years have never shared a room before. Adding an extra person into that equation complicates things. It’s hard to find one person you share similar living habits with, and it’s even harder to find two. Simple decisions about lighting and temperature become more difficult to coordinate. It’s equally difficult to find a time to have the room to yourself, taking three people’s disjointed schedules into account.

The first year of college is stressful, especially the first semester. This isn’t the case because the classes and coursework are the hardest. It’s because this is many students’ first time living away from home. We’re all trying to find a home in this new place, but that becomes a little bit harder if we don’t have a living situation that feels comfortable.

A nice bed is so simple. It’s a place you can crawl into when you’re sick or tired, and it’s where you start and end each day. Having to climb up or down a ladder to reach your bed bumping your head on the too-low ceiling is enough to strip your bed of the comfort it’s supposed to provide. Using the lower bunk, which squeaks and shakes through the night when your bunkmate moves, is just as troubling.

Personal space is important, and not having it affects you in a personal way. College students are most likely to drop out during their first year. Occidental’s first-year retention rate is 92 percent. I do not know how many of those 8 percent were in triples, and I do not pretend to know all the reasons why a student might leave school, but I imagine that an uncomfortable living situation would exacerbate any adversity.

I talked to one student who was forced into a triple, and they said that it makes them feel like the college doesn’t care about us and that they just put us here. I wouldn’t say the college doesn’t care about us, or that triples don’t happen out of a flawed necessity, but being forced into an overcrowded room like mine is enough to make you feel like you’re not cared about. That’s a powerful and isolating emotion for a first year to feel.

When we’re all paying a fair bit to be here, having the option of a typical double living space doesn’t seem like too much to ask. If Occidental cannot afford to build more housing for first years, the college should accept only as many students as it can responsibly house or allow more interested sophomores and juniors to move off campus in order to make room for first years. Any or all of these solutions would be preferable to dysfunctional forced triples, and working toward making these changes would relieve much of the stress that first years experience.

River Lisius is an undeclared first year. She can be reached at rlisius@oxy.edu.